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Statistics and research release

Understanding consumer complaints

A look at how we process information to fully understand consumer complaints.

Summary

About this release

We collect data on consumer complaints within the gambling industry in different ways but bring them together in this report to provide a comprehensive picture of what we know.

This helps us to improve our understanding of consumers’ use and experiences of the complaints system and inform our thinking on developing policy to further support consumers.

The data used in this release is drawn from three main sources:

  • quantitative survey data (via an online survey)
  • qualitative research (via an online community as part of our Consumer Voice Research)
  • industry data taken from a variety of sources.

Key facts

  • according to regulatory returns the number of complaints received by operators in 2019 to 2020, decreased compared to the previous year by 22,342 to 132,862. (Industry Data)
  • non-payment of winnings, account closures, and misleading promotions and adverts were the main areas of complaints shown across ADR, Resolver and Contact Centre data (Industry Data)
  • gamblers are more likely to consider making a complaint about non-payment of winnings than about being allowed to gamble more than they could afford to lose (Quantitative Survey data)
  • the gamblers we spoke to had the perception that making a complaint would be a tedious process, however those who had made a complaint had a more positive experience than they expected. (Qualitative Research)
  • they had a relatively high level of trust in the complaints process of gambling operators, but some were still reassured by the involvement of a third party. However, this was seen as a last resort, not a first port of call. (Qualitative Research)

Details

Data sources

About our Online Tracker (quantitative survey data)

The Commission collects in depth data from online gamblers about their online gambling behaviour via a quarterly online tracker, conducted by Yonder Consulting as part of their online omnibus. Data is collected on c.8,000 adults aged 18+ in Great Britain per year. The online survey sample is sourced through Yonder’s panel, and the sample is subject to quotas in-line with those used for the Commission’s quarterly telephone survey. The variables used for weighting are age, gender, region, social grade, tenure and working status.

About our Consumer Voice Research (qualitative research using an online community)

We use a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to gather views, opinions and insights from gambling consumers. This work complements our official nationally representative statistics on gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling but goes into more depth on key issues and emerging areas of interest.

Our Consumer Voice research is currently conducted by 2CV, who use a combination of online surveys and online panels to tap into the voice of gambling consumers and those affected by gambling in Great Britain. For this project, a small number of participants were recruited for an online community. All had gambled online in the past 12 months and had either previously made a complaint with a gambling operator (x9), attempted/wanted to make a complaint but never had (x9), or had sought financial redress from a gambling operator (x9). A larger proportion of participants scored at the higher end of the PGSI (moderate-risk or problem gambler).

About our Industry Data

Data on the number of complaints within the industry is captured from various sources. Operators are required to collect complaints data as part of the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP), which is reported to the Gambling Commission through Regulatory Returns. Consumers who have a complaint must contact the operator first, the operator then has 8 weeks to resolve the issue, after which it can be raised with an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) body (currently IBAS and eCOGRA handle the majority of disputes). In addition, the Gambling Commission’s Contact Centre, and the resolution service Resolver, also receive and support the complaints process for the industry.

Complaints process

Any consumer, whether they have gambled online or in premises, has the right to make a complaint - in the first instance directly to the relevant gambling operator. All gambling businesses must have fair, open and transparent complaints policies and procedures. They are required to report the number of complaints they receive to the Commission as part of their regulatory returns.

If a consumer and gambling business cannot reach a resolution, the consumer may then refer the complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider if the operator is unable to resolve the it within eight weeks. ADR providers must publish an annual report that includes details of the complaints referred to them.

Consumers can use the online tool Resolver to help them make a complaint against a gambling company. In addition, consumers can call or email our Contact Centre to complain. While it is not our role to resolve individual complaints or disputes between consumers and gambling businesses, our role in protecting the collective interests of consumers means that the information we receive from consumers can be very important to our work.

Further information on how to complain can be found on our complaints page.

Consumer expectations

Gamblers expect to be able to make a complaint with the gambling operator directly. The gamblers we spoke to in the qualitative research expected to be able to make a complaint with the gambling operator directly. Many felt responsible for their gambling behaviours and outcomes and did not expect the operator to look out for them; they felt that it was their responsibility. There was an acceptance that gambling and betting are risky activities, and that things may not work out as hoped. However, some also felt that operators don’t have the players best interests at heart, and that it was important to ‘look out for yourself’. This sense of responsibility and lack of faith in operators’ intentions impacts how likely people are to make a complaint. Many stated they would not complain unless they had hard evidence that whatever went wrong was the operators’ fault.

Consumers say they would be more likely to complain about non-payment of winnings than gambling more that they can afford. In our quantitative survey, we posed two hypothetical scenarios to gamblers and asked whether they would make a complaint in these circumstances.

Scenario 1 – gambled more than could afford

“Imagine you’ve been gambling online for several hours. You lost track of time and spent more money than you planned. The gambling company did not contact you or check you were ok.”

Scenario 2 – non-payment of winnings

“Imagine you’ve placed a bet on a football match. You think the bet should have been a winner, but after 24 hours the winnings have not appeared in your account. There is no explanation as to why.”

There were some key differences in their responses:

  • 23% said that they would complain in scenario 1, compared to 76% who would complain in scenario 2
  • Over half (55%) felt that they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they complained in scenario 1, compared to 27% in scenario 2
  • 32% would expect their money to be refunded in scenario 1, compared to 78% in scenario 2.

Gamblers who are more sceptical of the industry may be more likely to be reassured by third party involvement. The gamblers we spoke to in the qualitative research tended to feel reassured by the fact that 3rd parties have nothing to lose or gain and would be more likely to be truly independent, unlike operators who may be more inclined to protect their own interests. However, all of the participants agreed that involving a 3rd party was a ‘last resort’ to be used, for example, if they felt that their complaint was not being taken seriously by the operator or that the money or psychological impact involved was considerable.

Data from our quantitative survey also shows that around a third of respondents would prefer to complain to an independent body rather than directly to a gambling company.

Making a complaint

According to our quantitative survey data, 8% of past 12-month gamblers had ever made a complaint. A further 4% reported that they wanted to make a complaint but didn’t.

Have you ever made, or attempted to make, a complaint about a personal gambling experience? - a pie chart to show whether some has made, thought about or have never attempted to a complaint

Have you ever made, or attempted to make, a complaint about a personal gambling experience? (n=3,093 past 12 month gamblers)

NET: ComplainedNo – but I have wanted to make a complaintNo – I have not needed to make a complaint
8%4%88%

The majority of complaints were made by males and those aged 25-44. Those in the 25-34 age group followed by those aged 35-44 account for nearly 60% of the complaints made. When compared to trends that we see in our gambling participation data, there was an over representation of complaints made by males and those under 45.

Demographic profile of those who have made a complaint about a personal gambling experience - 2 pie charts. The first pie chart is the gender breakdown. The second is a breakdown of complaints made by age groups.

Demographic profile of those who have made a complaint about a personal gambling experience (n=241 past 12 month gamblers who had made a complaint)

MaleFemale18-2425-3435-4445-5455-6465+
73%27%15%33%26%19%5%2%

Misleading promotions/adverts, incorrect bet settlement, non-payment of winnings, and account closures are the most common causes of complaints. This was seen across both our quantitative survey data and across the range of industry data sources. Mirroring the hypothetical scenarios, complaints about being allowed to gamble more than the consumer could afford, along with issues relating to gambling management tools, and issues relating to self-exclusion, were less prevalent.

Reasons for making a complaint - a bar chart of the reasons gamblers who have made or have wanted to make a complaint

Reasons for making a complaint (n=357 past 12 month gamblers who have made or have wanted to make a complaint)

Misleading promotions/advertsIncorrect bet settlementNon-payment of winningsUnable to withdraw fundsUnfair random number generator/game is fixedIssues relating to customer serviceBeing allowed to gamble more than I could affordIssues relating to terms and conditionsUnwanted direct marketing e.g. emails, texts etc.Issues relating to gambling management tools, such as setting limits or time outs.Issues relating to self-excludingOther
16%15%14%12%8%6%6%6%5%5%2%5%

We see similar key themes across industry data sources as were reported in the quantitative survey:

Complaints made to the Commission’s contact centre

  • of all enquiries received by our Contact Centre during the 2019-20 reporting period, 42.2% were regarding consumer complaints. In total, 9,342 consumer complaints were received by the Contact Centre in 2019-20, a decrease of 270 (2.8%) compared to the previous year
  • the main type of complaint received by the Contact Centre is Non-payment, followed by Customer Service Issues. Non-payment includes additional verification, ID request, insolvency and other.

Complaints made via Resolver

  • the resolution service Resolver has also seen an increase in dispute escalation to ADRs, from 14.8% in 2018-19 up to 18.7% during 2019-20. The percentage increase was less than that reported in regulatory returns (3.9% compared with 7.1%)
  • the main type of complaint received by Resolver during 2019-20 concerned Accounts, this includes consumers being unable to withdraw funds or having their accounts closed.

Complaints reported by operators in regulatory returns

  • the number of complaints received by operators (as reported to us via operator regulatory returns) has decreased by 22,337 to 132,862 during October 2019 to September 2020 (14.4% decrease).

Complaints reported to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) providers

  • the two main ADR providers, IBAS and eCOGRA, reported a total of 5,617 disputes escalated to them during 2019-20. Of these disputes, 3,118 resulted in a resolution, whereas 2,499 disputes were refused. Reasons for refusal include that customer communication ceased, the operator complaint process was not exhausted (reported to ADR before 8-week period) and regulatory matters (e.g., self-exclusion)
  • the most common complaints received by IBAS in 2019/20 were about Disputed Settlement Criteria/Bet Instructions
  • the main complaint type received by eCOGRA in 2019/20 was Deposits and Withdrawals.

Not making a complaint

Our quantitative survey data showed that 8% of gamblers reported making a complaint, whilst a further 4% of gamblers wanted to make a complaint but didn’t.

Our qualitative research explored some possible reasons for this:

  • for some of the people we spoke to, the sense of responsibility for their own gambling and a lack of faith in operators’ ‘intentions’ made them less likely to complain
  • there was a perception that it’s a tedious process and that the operator may be purposefully difficult to reach
  • some also felt that it wasn’t worth the ‘bother’ or ‘hassle’
  • many stated they would not complain unless they had hard evidence that whatever went wrong was the operators’ fault.

Quote

“The process of making a complaint is long in general and it’s not guaranteed the complaint will be upheld even if you have expressed your issues and reason for complaint. I have wanted to make a complaint. I didn’t because I couldn’t be bothered to go through the process and also to keep having to relive the moment as to me that’s jarring.” - Female, 32, PGSI 0

Quote

“Gambling is heavily regulated these days and I cannot see a situation where a larger operator would want to risk going viral over mishandling a complaint - especially if their behaviour could even have been considered questionable.” - Male, 52, PGSI 1-2

Outcomes of complaints

It is important to note that the views presented in this section are taken from a small sample of respondents as part of our qualitative research. Nevertheless, everyone we spoke to who had complained did so to the gambling operators directly, and most felt it was easier than they expected to find the relevant contact details and speak to someone. However, the group also reported inconsistencies between operators. Being able to speak to a person who is empathetic to the situation and listens was a key driver of positive complaints experience, and for many having a positive interaction made them feel more affinity towards the operator.

Quote

"I rang up the customer services helpline, which I got off their website. I would rather speak to a human than do a web chat. After the initial menu, I was not on hold for very long, maybe a few minutes, and the issue was resolved in the same amount of time. I guess as it was a common issue that I have no doubt they receive all the time, the customer service rep was able to help me out quickly and easily." - Male, 24, PGSI 0

Most of the people we spoke to were relatively satisfied with the outcome of their complaint. Common outcomes reported included:

  • having winnings paid out
  • having the original stake credited back into their account after technical glitches/ errors etc
  • an apology from the operator and reassurance that it wouldn’t happen again.

However, some qualitative participants felt that the process is deliberately complicated to deter people from complaining. Some common hurdles were identified, such as there not being a clear complaints page or signposting, too many options with vague descriptions, and information provided not being clear about whether they would be entitled to a reimbursement.

Quote

"There are so many options it actually gets a bit confusing on which category to pick. I found myself going back and forth a few times" - Female, 23, PGSI 3-7

Outcomes of complaints are likely to impact trust towards an operator, but less likely to affect gambling behaviour. Most of the people we spoke to claimed that a positive outcome wouldn’t affect the amount that they gamble, but it may lead them to favour that operator over others. Conversely, some reported that a negative outcome may make them less likely to use the operator again. Also, over half of the people we spoke to felt that a positive complaints experience would give them the confidence to make a complaint again in future if they needed to.

Points for further consideration and research

  1. as customers tend to be in a psychologically ‘hot’ state when complaining, it is important to make it easy and quick to talk to a human about the issue. Several people we spoke to as part of the qualitative research reported feeling high levels of anxiety as soon as they realised something had gone wrong, which means it’s important for players to be able to speak to someone quickly and easily
  2. a minority of the online community participants did admit that having a positive outcome to a complaint (i.e. getting money/credit refunded) could lead to increased gambling frequency and / or increased stake amounts. Recovering the money lost feels like an unexpected bonus and the temptation to spend this unexpected money on gambling is high. This was particularly the case for moderate risk and problem gamblers. Further exploration is needed to understand how different amounts or method of refund would affect future gambling, as there is likely to be some variance depending on how much money is involved
  3. in scenario 1 in our quantitative survey, 15% of gamblers agreed that they would use the money to gamble again if they were to receive a refund/recover their money. Among problem gamblers that rises to 50%. Similar figures were also observed for scenario 2
  4. whilst the people we spoke to in the qualitative research expected any money lost due to operator error to be reimbursed, none said that they expected additional compensation in the event of an error. However, additional compensation was deemed appropriate within the following scenarios:
    • if they experienced psychological distress as a result of the issue (e.g. family conflict)
    • if it took a long time to resolve without clear information
    • if they came into financial harms (e.g., debt) as a result
    • if it was an ongoing issue (e.g. the same issue re-occurred on multiple occasions)
  5. industry data on complaints is captured from several sources and structured in different ways across each agency that collects data, which can make direct comparisons between each source difficult. Further work to harmonise the data across industry has been implemented, meaning that comparisons between sources will be more consistent in the future. We will also continue to collect data and monitor trends in complaints across the gambling industry.

Further information on how to complain can be found on our complaints page.

Our other guidance and reports on the complaints process

Published:2 November 2021

Read the report on consolidation of operator complaints

Read our guidance on consumer perceptions of complaints process

Data and downloads

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