UKGC “short survey” has a particular focus on affordability questions

On 18 January 2021, the Gambling Commission commenced a little-publicised “short survey”, that closes on 9 February 2021. It seeks views on how gambling companies interact with their customers, with a particular focus on affordability.

As such, this online survey covers certain of the same issues and themes contained within the Commission’s much fuller Remote Customer Interaction Consultation & Call for Evidence that also runs until 9 February 2021, the deadline for responses having been extended from the original closing date of 12 January 2021, as reported by us here.

The Commission’s “Overview” explanation for this short survey reads as follows:

The Gambling Commission is the regulator for most forms of gambling in Britain. At the moment, we are running a consultation and calling for evidence on the actions that gambling companies should be required to take to prevent harm to their online customers. You can access the consultation/ call for evidence here. We are gathering responses from consumers, gambling businesses, charities and many others, and the closing date is 9 February 2021.

This survey provides a summary of some of the key themes we are seeking views on and includes some brief questions to help us gather perspectives from as many people as possible.

In the absence of any clear explanation from the Commission, one can only speculate why it has decided at this late stage in the pre-existing Consultation and Call for Evidence process to conduct an online survey that is clearly aimed at the general public rather than at businesses. The only clue to why it has made that decision lies in the following words in the introductory section of the new survey:

Essentially, we want to gather views on what is the right balance between consumer protections and consumer freedom and privacy. This survey offers an opportunity for people to provide some views on this core question

Rather than asking respondents if they consider that a problem exists if a person spends more than they can afford when gambling – and differentiating between “often” and “occasionally” so spending – the Commission states:

People spending more than they can afford is one of the most common problems people can have with gambling. For some people even spending small amounts of money on gambling could cause them problems, meaning they can’t pay for things like rent, food and bills.  We want to make sure that this happens as little as possible but that people are still able to gamble if they want to and can afford it. This is why we want to get views on what level of spending should mean a gambling business is required to assess whether that level of gambling would cause the customer a problem and how this check is done.

Dependent on how much time is taken responding to the few open questions contained within the survey, it is likely to take little more than 5 to 10 minutes to complete.

Questions diverge dependent on how a respondent answers the question “Do you think gambling businesses should be required to assess if gambling is affordable?”.

If a respondent answers “yes”, the next following section reads as follows:

Thresholds for affordability assessments

We would like your views on when a gambling business might be required to conduct an affordability assessment. 

At what level do you think gambling businesses should be required to assess if gambling is affordable?

    • For every customer  
    • Once a customer has lost more than £100 in a month  
    • Once a customer has lost more than £250 in a month  
    • Once a customer has lost more than £500 in a month  
    • Once a customer has lost more than £1,000 in a month  
    • Once a customer has lost more than £2,000 in a month  
    • Other

Do you have any other comments or suggestions about thresholds for doing an affordability check?

If a respondent answers “no”, the next following section instead reads as follows:

No affordability assessments

You have said that gambling businesses should not assess if gambling is affordable –  we would like to understand more.

What are your reasons for saying that gambling businesses should not assess if gambling is affordable? You can select multiple options.

    • Not fair to gambling businesses  
    • Customer privacy  
    • Customer freedom  
    • It won’t help protect customers  
    • Other action would better protect customers  
    • Other  
    • Not sure

Other questions include:

  1. Are there situations which make a customer particularly vulnerable when gambling?
  2. What action should gambling businesses be required to take if there are signs of harm? This could be after an affordability check or if there is other information which may be a risk flag.
    • Helping a customer access tools to limit gambling or to access support
    • Setting a cap on a customer’s gambling in line with the affordability check
    • Preventing marketing to a customer
    • Preventing a customer from gambling
    • Not sure
    • Other
  3. If a gambling business asked for information from you to assess whether your gambling is affordable would you…?
    • Provide information
    • Find it a hassle and I wouldn’t get around to it
    • Refuse to provide information; I would not be comfortable
    • Stop gambling with that business and go to another online business, until they too ask me for information
    • Stop gambling online
    • Stop gambling completely
    • Not sure
  4. At the moment, gambling businesses can access limited information about customers from third parties such as credit reference agencies. How comfortable would you feel about businesses accessing more information like this as a way of completing an affordability check?
    • Very comfortable – this would protect some customers
    • Comfortable – I would have some reservations but understand it would be helpful
    • Not sure
    • Uncomfortable – I would have some concerns
    • Very uncomfortable – I believe this is not appropriate
  5. What would make you/consumers more comfortable to provide information to a gambling business or give permission for information to be accessed?
    • Clear explanation of why the information is necessary
    • Clear rules on how gambling businesses can use your data
    • Awareness that all operators and customers will be treated the same way
    • Requiring gambling businesses to delete data after a set time
    • I would never provide my data
    • Not sure
    • Other
  6. Do you have any comments about the balance of customer protection and customer freedom/ privacy?

By way of final comment, it appears that no mechanism exists to prevent someone from submitting multiple responses to the survey, which will have bearing dependent on the weight that the Gambling Commission places in due course on the numbers of responses received in relation to each alternative option.

UPDATE: On 2 February 2021, an interesting article entitled “Affordability checks are even worse than you might think – and here’s why” was published by The Racing Post. It concludes with the following words:

The implications of this for racing, for punters and for basic civil liberties are appalling to contemplate. Problem gambling is a scourge that must be continually battled, but this is not a reasonable, proportionate or intelligent response to that serious issue. Instead, it is a monstrous violation of our rights and privacy that will deter millions of responsible citizens from betting and impose draconian restrictions on countless more. It thereby threatens the very future of horseracing. The Gambling Commission’s consultation ends on Tuesday. Respond to it, write to your MP, and join the growing chorus of outrage at this illiberal proposal.