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Vulnerability statement

The Gambling Commission's vulnerability statement setting out our approach to identifying and supporting vulnerable consumers throughout the customer journey.

Published: 18 July 2023

Last updated: 18 July 2023

This version was printed or saved on: 1 December 2023

Online version: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/about-us/guide/vulnerability-statement

Overview: ## Our approach to identifying and supporting vulnerable consumers throughout the customer journey


Consumers in a vulnerable situation

'When consumers are in a vulnerable situation, they may be significantly less able to understand the risks of gambling and the terms and conditions; and they may be at higher risk of experiencing negative outcomes from gambling.'.

This statement is provided for information, for details of specific requirements refer to our Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP).

This statement is intended to provide a summary of the Gambling Commission’s approach to identifying, supporting and protecting consumers who are in vulnerable situations.

It brings together information from existing Commission policy and guidance documents to help provide consolidated information about how we take account of consumer vulnerability in our work. It is intended to help gambling businesses, gambling consumers, the general public, and other regulators and organisations understand our approach and expectations.

As the gambling regulator for Great Britain, our duties are to aim to permit gambling, provided we are satisfied it is reasonably consistent with the licensing objectives which are to:

We have a responsibility to work with partners to help identify, design and implement the right mix of controls to be applied by gambling businesses to prevent harm for all consumers and vulnerable groups or individuals.

This statement references the Commission's explanation of what we mean when we discuss vulnerability, provides information about our approach to building understanding of factors which may make a consumer more vulnerable to gambling harm and explains how we set requirements for gambling businesses to support, identify and protect vulnerable consumers.

We will continue to assess the insights and evidence concerning consumer vulnerability and may make changes to our approach over time.

In developing our approach to consumers in vulnerable situations, we have reviewed the work of other United Kingdom (UK) regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Ofcom, Ofgem, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

We have considered the work of international organisations such as the European Union (EU) and international gambling regulators. We continue to review their approaches to supporting consumers in vulnerable situations and build on existing and emerging good practice.

The Gambling Commission faces some different challenges when considering the support that gambling consumers in vulnerable situations may need. For many other regulators, the primary concern is to ensure that consumers receive support in order to access services – for example, to support financially vulnerable consumers to access financial services like bank accounts, or to support consumers who use vital electrical medical equipment during a period of electricity outage.

It is important that gambling businesses consider accessibility. However, gambling consumers who are in a vulnerable situation may require different forms of support – more information about gambling risks and ways to stay safe, support to manage and limit their gambling activity, support to cease gambling through self-exclusion, and relevant action by gambling businesses to limit or prevent direct marketing and gambling on behalf of the consumer.

Nonetheless, there are common principles across domestic and international regulators about building understanding of vulnerability, considering how to support consumers at each stage of the customer journey and ensuring that businesses act with appropriate levels of care.

Vulnerability statement - What do we mean by vulnerability?

Key documents

One of the licensing objectives set out in the Gambling Act 2005 (opens in new tab) is to 'protect children and other vulnerable persons from harm'. Children are therefore considered to be vulnerable by the legislation.

The Gambling Commission has set out in corporate documents, such as our Strategy plan: 2018 to 2021, what we consider to be vulnerability, which is similar to the approaches taken by other regulators.

'A customer in a vulnerable situation is somebody who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly where a business is not acting with appropriate levels of care.'.

Although not an exhaustive list, our Statement of principles for licensing and regulation sets out that for regulatory purposes we consider that the group of 'other vulnerable persons' will include:

  • people who spend more money and/or time gambling than they want to
  • people who gamble beyond their means
  • people who may not be able to make informed or balanced decisions about gambling, for example because of health problems, learning disability, or substance misuse relating to alcohol or drugs.

We know that adults may be in a vulnerable situation at any age, but young adults may be particularly vulnerable to gambling related harms due to a combination of biological, situational and environmental factors.

Anybody can be vulnerable to harm and there are many reasons a person may be in a vulnerable situation. Changes to an individual consumer’s circumstances may mean that a person becomes more or less vulnerable to experiencing gambling harms. A vulnerable situation can be permanent, temporary or intermittent, and may be related to health, capability, resilience, or the impact of a life event.

Those circumstances could include bereavement, loss of income, illness, divorce or other factors. This does not mean that everyone who is in these circumstances is automatically vulnerable - they may not be a representation of vulnerability in any given situation. Importantly, it also does not mean that the Gambling Commission seeks for set responses to every consumer in these same circumstances - vulnerabilities differ, they may not always be visible and the appropriate response will depend on the situation.

Vulnerability statement - What do we know about vulnerability in the gambling context?

Understanding vulnerability and gambling harms is key to the Gambling Commission's approach. Problem gambling screens are useful tools and have in recent years been the prominent approach to identifying gambling harms and vulnerability.

The Commission recognises though that these issues are complex and multifaceted, and that we need a fuller understanding of the wide-ranging harms that some gamblers experience, but also the wider impact that gambling can have on affected others, communities, and wider society.

In 2020 we started piloting a new set of survey questions designed to understand the incidence, nature and severity of harm experienced by gamblers and non-gamblers. The questions form part of a new methodology for collecting participation and prevalence of problem gambling statistics. Building our approach to evidence in ways such as this enables the Commission to strive for an overall picture of harms rather than just a count of the number of problem gamblers in the population.

The Commission uses its own data, and data from other sources, to ensure that it has a robust understanding of risk factors and vulnerabilities which might cause consumers to be at greater risk of gambling harm. We consider a range of factors, such as:

We know that adults may be in a vulnerable situation at any age, but young adults may be particularly vulnerable to gambling related harms due to a combination of biological, situational and environmental factors.

Our research on exploring the gambling journeys of young people shows that young adults are most at risk of falling into problem gambling around the age of 20 to 21 years, as they adjust to new freedoms such as moving out of home and managing their own finances.

The Commission also undertakes in depth work around other key groups of interest, such as women and understanding their experiences of gambling, and gambling behaviours among Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.

Vulnerability statement - How we embed vulnerability within our regulatory approach

General principles

Our Statement of principles for licensing and regulation specifies that the Gambling Commission expects licensees to, amongst other things:

  • conduct their business with integrity
  • act with due care, skill, and diligence
  • have due regard to the information needs of consumers and communicate with them in a way that is clear, not misleading, and allows them to make a properly informed judgment about whether to gamble.

To embed these principles, the Gambling Commission builds consideration of vulnerability into regulatory measures that apply at each stage of the customer journey or the Path to Play framework.

The intention of the Path to Play framework is to explore this journey specifically from the gambler’s perspective, which may be different to a gambling business or regulator’s perspective. This will allow us to better understand how consumers experience gambling, what factors influence them, where there may be greater risks for some gamblers, and identify opportunities for intervention. It builds on our earlier work to understand why people gamble and typologies, and our wider Consumer Voice research.

Examples of building vulnerability into regulatory measures

Some key examples of building vulnerability into regulatory measures are as follows.

Children, young people and young adults

We set requirements relating to age verification and test purchasing which uphold the legal age of gambling, and we consider the role of additional protections for young adults.

Advertising and marketing

We work with government and other regulators to reduce visibility of advertising to those who are too young to be able to use advertised products and services, and to individuals or groups identified as being at risk of harm.

Provision of information

Consumers in a vulnerable situation may be significantly less able to understand the risks of gambling and the terms and conditions. It is particularly important that gambling businesses reduce this risk through meeting all of the requirements relating to provision of information. These include:

Consumer-led tools

Consumers have access to a range of tools to help them control their time and money spent gambling and there are rules governing the availability of these tools and their use.

Customer interaction

Recognising that it will at times be appropriate for gambling businesses to take proportionate action for customers who they know are in a vulnerable situation, we set requirements on how gambling businesses must identify customers at risk of harm and take action to minimise the risk. This includes assessing the information available to them on vulnerability and taking appropriate action.

Vulnerability statement - Our internal approach to vulnerability

In addition to our specific requirements for gambling businesses to support, identify and protect vulnerable consumers, there are a range of approaches we take internally that seek to improve how our day-to-day processes support vulnerable consumers.

By using our research and data analysis functions the Gambling Commission aims to build and develop a broader picture of the types and scope of vulnerability issues to help inform our policy approaches. This clearer understanding allows us to direct our regulatory responses to specifically deal with issues relating to vulnerability.

Another way we do this is through the input of our Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP) whose members have personal lived experience of gambling harms and who use these experiences, alongside a wide range of evidence, to provide independent advice to the Commission, helping to inform our policy development and ensure that we are regulating in a way which reduces the risk of vulnerable people being harmed by gambling.

Through our Contact Centre we engage with a range of consumers on a daily basis, some of whom will be in vulnerable situations, and we work to signpost and assist consumers to access additional support.

Online we are working hard to ensure that our website content is accessible and usable so that as many people as possible can access, navigate and understand the information contained within it.

Vulnerability statement - Further information

To find out more about our approach, requirements and expectations for gambling businesses, please visit the following.

Our Statement of principles for licensing and regulation sets out our overall approach to regulation.

The Path to Play framework. This research focuses on building our understanding of what the typical consumer journey looks like, from the beginning of a gambling interaction to the end.

Our new methodology for collecting participation and prevalence of problem gambling statistics.