NatWest and GamCare have recently entered into a partnership that will have the gambling charity offering counseling sessions to gambling addicts inside branches of the high-street lender. This groundbreaking scheme is set to be piloted in 13 outlets across England before being rolled out to more of the bank’s 700 branches throughout the UK.
According to NatWest, the pilot project will be available in London, in the Midlands, East of England, and in the Southeast of the country. People who believe they have a gambling problem will be able to make appointments with experts, even if they are not NatWest customers.
Part of state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest also joins other lenders like Barclays, Monzo, and Starling in allowing customers to block gambling transactions on their credit cards and bank accounts, including through its mobile app. NatWest Head of Lending Phil Sheehy said the program would provide an “accessible and neutral environment” to help gambling addicts who might not be comfortable going to an addiction centre.
“We want to look at what we can do to help people who may be struggling with a gambling addiction, which can have a significant effect financially,” Sheehy said. GamCare Development Director Mike Kenward added that they will train NatWest staff in handling gambling addicts. For their part, NatWest is already providing 600 of its staff members with specialist vulnerability training.
Kenward said banks were in a “phenomenal” position to help individuals who are impacted by problem gambling. “The relationship between problem gambling and financial problems is well-established, although not enough is known about it,” he added. “What people need when they’re trying to make a big change in their life is the tools to help them when their motivation is at its lowest. It gives an additional layer of protection.”
He said the offer of space for consultation from NatWest will increase GamCare’s ability to reach vulnerable people. Additionally, the number of counseling locations in London alone will significantly increase from four to ten as a result of this scheme. Nine locations have already been identified for the pilot, with a further four yet to be confirmed.
At present, banks are already monitoring customers’ accounts to identify unusual spending habits, including extreme losses to bookmakers and casinos. In recent research conducted by the UK Gambling Commission, it was identified that around 340,000 adults in the UK are struggling with gambling addiction. Another 550,000 individuals are also said to be affected by gambling in various ways. The worst effect of gambling that was identified in this study is the increased risk of suicide.
The recent partnership between GamCare and NatWest is supported by the government through the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media, and Sport, Nicky Morgan. Morgan said she welcomes the measures and will follow up on its progress. In addition, Morgan urged more banks to follow the lead of this scheme, noting that helping customers avoid gambling risks is vital.
The UK Gambling Commission currently spends £1 billion to treat gambling problems each year. But underfunding is still very much a reality, which is why Morgan is calling for more support from banks.