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Banks let customers block spending on gambling websites 26/11/19
• HSBC join many other banks to allow customers to prevent themselves from spending money with bookmakers and online casinos

Europe’s largest bank will offer its 14.5 million UK customers the option to self-exclude from all gambling transactions, a restriction that can only be reversed after a 24-hour cooling-off period.

It said the scheme, designed in partnership with the charities GamCare and GambleAware, would create “positive friction” by giving customers time to consider their urge to gamble.

The bank said the move was a response to concerns expressed by its customers about the impact that betting is having on their finances.

More than half a million of its customers placed bets every month in 2018, spending an average of £52.50, while it receives more than 12,000 calls from customers about gambling per year.

It has trained staff to respond to these calls with the help of GamCare and will also analyse data on card spending to see who might benefit from advice.

HSBC’s move to help people who are trying to rein in their gambling is part of a growing trend in the financial sector to arm customers with technological tools to do so.

Dr Heather Wardle, an assistant professor and gambling behaviour researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The financial sector is a key enabler of the gambling industry – without them online gambling couldn’t exist.

“So it’s right that banks and other financial institutions take the protection of people from gambling harms seriously.”

Last month NatWest declared it would offer counselling sessions for gambling addicts inside branches as part of a groundbreaking pilot scheme that could be rolled out across the country. People who think they have a gambling problem will be able to make appointments to see experts from the charity GamCare in 13 branches of NatWest, even if they are not customers of the bank.

NatWest, part of state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, said the trial would begin in London and the south-east, the Midlands and east of England, and the service could be introduced in more of its 700 branches.

It is also joining other lenders such as Monzo, Barclays and Starling by allowing customers to block gambling transactions on their bank accounts or credit cards through its mobile app.

A national self-exclusion scheme designed to help addicts bar themselves from betting has suffered from teething problems, while campaigners have complained that addiction services are underfunded and not widely available.

NatWest said it wanted to help tackle the problem by using floorspace in branches to offer advice in a discreet environment. “Some customers might be uncomfortable going to an addiction centre,” said NatWest’s head of lending, Phil Sheehy. “This is an accessible and neutral environment.”

An influential cross-party group of MPs recently called for much stricter regulation of online gambling saying that online casinos should be subject to maximum stake limits similar to the £2 limits imposed on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), according to a report released by a group of MPs who are demanding a “root and branch” overhaul of gambling law.

Earlier a similar government review of gambling regulation suggested a ban on using credit cards for online gambling and a mandatory levy on gambling firms to fund addiction treatment.

Shares in gambling companies have suffered badly after it was revealed that a cross-party group of MPs had been pushing for much tighter curbs on online gambling. The proposals also included reform of VIP accounts, which have cropped up in multiple cases in which the Gambling commission has issued sanctions against gambling companies, including Betfred, Gala Coral, 32Red and LeoVegas.

In a recent speech to gambling firms in Malta, the UKGC commission’s chief executive, Neil McArthur, said the regulator was looking at schemes to use "all our tools to encourage or mandate changes in the interests of consumer protection around VIP schemes and inducements", and that they had received an offer from one operator to draw up a code of conduct.