Following a review of complaints policies that the Gambling Commission says “found a number of areas for improvements”, it has published on its website the following ‘Good practice complaints handling: tips for licensees’ (that you can download below), intended to remind licensees of existing rules and guidance.
Good practice complaints handling: tips for licensees
Following a review of complaints policies, this guide includes recommendations for licensees for good practice complaints handling.
The Commission reviewed 34 licensee complaints policies, from a range of sectors, and found a number of areas where licensees could make improvements. The recommendations should help make the complaints process easier and more accessible for consumers.
These tips are to help licensees effectively deal with consumer complaints. They are not intended to replace our requirements around complaints handling under social responsibility code 6 of the Licence conditions and codes of practice or our complaints and disputes guidance, which includes both legal obligations and recommendations of good practice.
Our review found that some complaints procedures were difficult to find on licensees’ websites, sometimes found within lengthy terms and conditions. Good practice is to have a direct link to your complaints procedure on the homepage of your website.
Use plain English and avoid jargon or legalese
Research from the legal sector on the complaints process (PDF) (opens in new tab) has shown that customers believe using complicated ‘legalese’ language is designed to intimidate them. It also leads to them perceiving the process of making and persevering with a complaint as onerous and confusing.
Our review saw examples of licensees using legal terminology in their complaints policies and having jargon-like team names and processes that could cause confusion for consumers.
You should remember that literacy levels vary significantly across the population and that a consumer reading your policy may not speak English as their first language. There are freely available tools that can assess the reading level needed to understand a piece of text.
Have a short and clear process for complaints
Examples of good practice we saw in our review were policies with 3 stages:
- initial complaints
- escalation within the organisation, often to a senior team
- escalation to an independent alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider.
When someone has reached the end of each stage of this process, it should be clearly explained how and when to escalate.
Tell people what information you need to investigate their complaint
It helps consumers to articulate their complaint if you explain to them what information you need to process it. It will prevent delay and help you to investigate the complaint quickly if you have all of the information you need at the outset. It will also help you and the ADR provider to investigate if the complaint is escalated. Key information from the examples we saw included: account information, details of the complaint and any key dates, what the consumer would like you to do to resolve the complaint.
Include details of the 8 week time limit for resolving complaints or issuing a final response
We understand many licensees aim to resolve complaints well within the 8-week time limit, with many saying they aim to provide responses within 24 hours or 5 working days. However, as required by Social Responsibility code provision 22.214.171.124, the overall timeframe to deal with complaints is 8 weeks, and licensees should include this in their complaints procedures so consumers know there is a definitive end point.
Be clear when you have given a final decision or reached ‘deadlock’
We saw few examples of licensees referring to ‘deadlock’. This is when a consumer has reached the end of their complaints process but a resolution has not been reached, after which they can escalate to an ADR provider.
This was also raised by ADR provider IBAS as an area that could require more clarity, so they are clear when they can proceed to investigate. In IBAS’ 2020/21 annual report (PDF) (opens in new tab) they stated that they have found the introduction of ‘deadlock’ letters and emails largely effective where introduced, but that more can and should be done to explain the escalation process to consumers.
While you do not have to use the term ‘deadlock’ you should be clear when you have provided your full and final response, and signpost to your ADR provider accordingly.
We saw examples of licensees who signposted people to their contact methods for making complaints, or how to escalate to an ADR provider, but did not include the links for them, or the links did not work. We also saw examples of licensees with incorrect or out of date information included in their policies.
Utilise technology to help guide people but always provide alternative contact methods
Many licensees now accept complaints via Live Chat, which we understand is an efficient and quick way for complaints to be resolved early on. Similarly, we saw an example of an operator using ‘decision tree’ technology to filter people through relevant FAQs to help guide them to the most relevant information. While these are helpful features, it is important to still offer alternative ways for people to contact you and not mandate that people complain via one method only.
Be accessible for all, including vulnerable people, and make adjustments where required
We saw very few examples of licensees acknowledging that people may need reasonable adjustments and that they would consider taking these into account when handling a consumer’s complaint. As research for Citizen’s Advice on consumer experiences of complaints handling (PDF) (opens in new tab) found, consumers want a range of methods to raise a complaint and communicate with an organisation. All routes need to be accessible and considerate towards anyone with a physical or cognitive impairment or disability.
The Ombudsman Association’s Principles of good complaint handling (opens in new tab) tells their members that a complainant’s personal situation and background should not be a barrier to bringing a complaint.
Our guidance on complaints and disputes states that licensees should accept customer complaints made in person, spoken or written, over the telephone or via email where facilities exist, or via third party intermediaries or support tools such as Resolver. If a customer informs a licensee that they are having difficulties raising a complaint, or are in a vulnerable situation, the licensee should ask how they can assist.
Keep a ‘virtual paper trail’
Our Contact Centre team told us that they have seen examples where there are no records of conversations where people have complained via Live Chat. As required by SR code provision 126.96.36.199, licensees should keep records of customer complaints and disputes, regardless of how the complaint was raised.
Utilise Resolver and other consumer support tools
We do not endorse Resolver’s service nor require licensees to sign up to it. However, we know many consumers have found its support helpful when making a complaint. It is vital that your complaints procedure is accessible enough so that people do not need to involve a third party, but you should still accept complaints raised this way.
Provide clear signposting to ADR providers
Our guidance on complaints and disputes says that licensees should provide consumers with the contact details for their ADR provider, and, where necessary, details of any limitation on the nature or subject matter they can deal with (for example if the ADR provider only deals with a particular sector of gambling).
Advice for licensee on improving complaints handling
The Commission reviewed 34 licensee complaints policies, from a range of sectors, and looked at how accessible and easy they were to use. This work was referenced in our 2021/22 business plan to ‘explore how to improve how licensees deal with consumers when things go wrong’. The work will also complement the Government’s review of the Gambling Act, which includes looking at how to improve consumer redress arrangements in the gambling industry.
Our data publication, Understanding consumer complaints highlighted that 8% of gamblers had ever made a complaint. A further 4% reported that they wanted to make a complaint but didn’t. Our qualitative research explored some possible reasons for this, one of which included the perception that it is a tedious process, and that the licensee may be purposefully difficult to reach.
While most of the policies we reviewed met the basic requirements imposed on gambling licences, there were still areas where licensees could make improvements in their complaints handling. This will help make the process easier and more accessible for consumers.
Ian Angus, Director of Policy at the Commission says:
“Good complaints handling is vital in the gambling industry. We want consumers to be able to easily find and understand policies and be able to raise their complaints without any barriers. We know gambling businesses receive around 200,000 complaints every year, and while the Government’s review of the Gambling Act will consider where these can be escalated to, the majority will still need to go through the licensee’s complaints process first. We want to help them handle these well, to improve outcomes for both them and consumers”.
We have written the following tips to help licensees improve their complaint handling. We have also reminded licensees of their requirements around complaints handling under social responsibility code 6 of our Licence conditions and codes of practice and signposted to our guidance on Complaints and disputes: procedural, information provision and reporting requirements.
Good practice complaints handling: tips for licensees
- include a link to your complaints procedure on your homepage
- use plain English and avoid jargon or legalese
- have a short and clear process for complaints
- tell people what information you need to investigate their complaint
- include details of the 8-week time limit for resolving complaints or issuing a final response
- be clear when you have given a final decision or reached ‘deadlock’
- include clickable links and check that they work
- utilise technology, such as webforms and decision-trees, to help guide people through the complaints process but always have alternative methods of contact available
- be accessible for all, including vulnerable people, and make adjustments where required
- keep a virtual paper-trail
- utilise Resolver and other consumer support tools
- provide clear signposting to ADR providers.
As explained in our website posting from last week entitled ‘Gambling Act Review White Paper – when, what, who, where and why?’ ,a detailed leak of proposals within the first draft of the Gambling Act Review White Paper included reference to a DCMS consultation in the autumn that will consult on introduction of an Ombudsman scheme to handle, adjudicate and (where appropriate) order redress for any gambling complaints that are not satisfactorily resolved by the operator in question. However, on the basis that publication of the White Paper is now delayed until after the appointment of a new Prime Minister on 5 September 2022, it remains to be seen whether that proposal will be implanted within that timescale or at all.