Update on the Remote Customer Interaction Consultation
On 25 May 2021, the Gambling Commission of Great Britain (“the Commission”) provided an update regarding its Remote Customer Interaction Consultation.
The update referenced the Commission’s consultation, which took place earlier this year, which is concerned with identifying and protecting customers at risk of harm. The update also referred to the Commission’s current requirements, which place a duty on remote operators to monitor gambling, and to take action where there is a risk of harm, and the Commission’s finding that operators were not always acting swiftly enough. The Commission confirmed that it has been analysing the approximately 13,000 responses it received.
Confirming that it had considered what the respondents said, the Commission states that:
Many people think there should be protections in place for the most vulnerable and that appropriate checks should be in place to identify and prevent cases of clearly unaffordable gambling. Many respondents emphasised that measures should be proportionate and targeted at those at risk of harm. At the same time, customers were also concerned about privacy and freedom of choice. We take that seriously.
What are the Commission’s priorities and intentions?
The Commission confirms that it is aiming to achieve the correct balance, and that it has listened to concerns about what could be seen as an unnecessary assessment of time and money spent gambling. However, it goes on to state that it has seen serious failings by operators towards customers, and (somewhat surprisingly given the extensive responses it has to review) it has concluded that it needs to take action now to address the most significant risks, including excessive spending in short periods of time and harm to vulnerable customers.
The Commission states that it has concluded that stronger requirements are needed for operators to identify a range of indicators of harm, and to take action earlier and more often.
The Commission states that it has identified three key risks that it is prioritising for action:
Significant losses in a very short time
Cases where customers have been able to spend many thousands of pounds in short periods, including minutes, without any checks. These cases are relatively rare but have very significant impacts on the consumers affected. For example, in a recent case a customer lost four thousand pounds in six minutes following sign-up.
Significant losses over time
Where customers have significant losses over a period of time without sufficient assessment of whether they are being harmed. Significant losses over time are experienced by a relatively small proportion of customers and it is appropriate to require checks for these customers. An example of this in our casework was where a customer lost thirty-five thousand pounds over two months, without sufficient checks being carried out.
Where information is available that shows when customers are particularly financially vulnerable and likely to be harmed by their level of gambling.
The Commission then sets out its next steps, which will be to:
- Publish its full response this summer, which will set out the detailed actions on the areas on which it has previously put forward proposals for consultation. Such areas include the requirement to take action where customers are known to be in a vulnerable situation, to take action in a timely manner, and, where appropriate, for that action to be automated. The Commission clarified that it will also proceed as planned with a consultation on thresholds for operators to take action and guidance as to what those actions should be.
- Continue to work closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) by providing advice and evidence for the Government’s Gambling Act Review (the “Review”) and recognising broader public policy questions about how to protect people from harm which will be considered as part of the Review.
- Continue to engage with consumers, the financial sector and the gambling industry about information on customers that should be available to gambling businesses.
- Continue its work to support the prevention of harm, including working to ensure that existing tools for setting deposit limits are used more widely and effectively.
Points of note for licensees and what should they do in the meantime?
- The Commission’s update clarified that remote licensees should continue to meet the Commission’s current customer interaction requirements. The Commission’s requirements and current expectations are set out in the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice, customer interaction guidance issued under SR Code 3.4.1 and in the Commission’s Compliance and Enforcement Report 2019-20. We discuss these requirements further in our blog.
- Operators should note the three ‘key risks’ flagged by the Commission that are being prioritised for action. Monitoring “significant losses in a very short time” and “significant losses over time” should not be an overly burdensome task for licensees and they should consider taking steps now to introduce monitoring of these risks if they do not already do so. The third key risk, “financial vulnerability” is somewhat more nuanced; until such time as the Commission makes its position clear, licensees should note the increasing focus by the Commission on the risks presented by customers who are financially vulnerable.
- Despite the apparent step backwards, which the Commission’s update indicates it has taken in relation to its future plans for affordability, licensees should note that in practice, the Commission continues to expect them to consider affordability in both their approach to safer gambling and in their approach to anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism.