Sarah Gardner, acting Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), believes deeper collaboration is required between public bodies and business institutions to tackle the obscure risks of vulnerability faced by the general public.
Gardner addressed the ‘The Shard Financial Vulnerability Summit 2021’, speaking to its virtual audience on ‘reducing risks and tackling harms’, in which she provided a first-hand account of the UKGC’s challenges in governing the gambling sector.
“Vulnerability is a topic that is often perceived quite narrowly but it is increasingly being recognised across many sectors that the circumstances of vulnerability are complex and unique,” Gardner remarked in her opening statement.
“There are of course many reasons why an individual might be vulnerable to harm. Similarly, those that may appear vulnerable may not be.”
Although, the Commission currently tracks the UK’s overall problem gambling rate at 0.4% of the population, with ‘moderate risk’ of harm at 0.6% – Gardner underscored that statistics ‘can never account for the many other lives, families and communities that are impacted by gambling harms’.
As UK business and society emerges from the stresses of lockdown, Gardner stated that the summit’s theme was a timely issue for all national stakeholders to recognise.
She continued: “As many of you will be familiar, the Financial Lives 2020 survey conducted by the FCA has found that 46% of UK adults, aged 18 and over display one or more characteristics of vulnerability.
“That’s 24.1 million people. At the Gambling Commission protecting vulnerable people from harm is one of our key licencing objectives and so understanding what makes people vulnerable to gambling-related harm is a key question for us and our work to reduce risk and make gambling safer.”
As a regulator of a high-risk industry, Gardner said that the UKGC had taken an uncompromising stance in raising standards through compliance and enforcement actions to protect children and the nation’s vulnerable consumers.
UKGC initiatives during the past three years have focused on strengthening the gambling industry’s ID and customer affordability compliance procedures, as well as terminating opaque terms and conditions to improve consumer standards.
Changing policies have seen the Commission enforce a credit card ban across the industry, whilst the regulator has ramped up its compliance enforcement procedure, which since 2017 has issued over £100 million of penalty packages and revoked 10 operator licences.
“This record of action should leave no one in doubt that the Gambling Commission is totally focused on making gambling safer, fairer and crime-free,” stressed Gardner. “But as I have said already, through collaboration with others, through collectively identifying issues and coming up with solutions, we can make further progress.”
Despite progress on reducing risks, Gardner acknowledged that gambling still requires help from wider stakeholders in developing a ‘single customer viewpoint’ to safeguard the public’s engagement with the sector.
The development of such a single viewpoint has been earmarked as the key objective of the UKGC’s new three-year ‘Corporate Strategy’, in which the regulator will place customer affordability and consumer redress as the central themes of its policy direction.
Gardner remarked that UK business had shown its willingness to collaborate on vulnerability matters, praising the banking and finance industries for ‘sharing best practices’ to develop gambling blocker tools that have been introduced across 90% of debit card accounts.
“We at the Gambling Commission continue to stand ready to work with and support others in this effort. That includes gambling operators,” she concluded. “We know many gambling firms have had a tough year and tougher decisions to make to save jobs and livelihoods. We will work with those operators who step up to work with us.
“But we will not move at the pace of the slowest. Considering the future won’t cause us to compromise the here and now. Even through the turbulence of the pandemic, we have made progress. We are on the right track. So, let’s keep on going together.”