Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs, Money and Mental Health

A campaign victory: Barclays introduces spending controls for customers

11 December 2018

One of Money and Mental Health’s long-standing priorities has been to encourage financial firms to give customers more tools to control problem spending – from gambling to impulsive shopping.

And in recent months there has been great progress on this front, particularly in terms of gambling. Earlier this year Monzo and Staring became the first financial firms to introduce the option to block gambling payments, and the Labour Party has pledged that it would force all banks to do the same. Moreover, discussions at our October roundtable event with many of the UK’s biggest financial firms suggested that there is appetite across the industry to do more to tackle these issues.

We’re therefore delighted that Barclays has today announced that it will enable customers to block certain types of spending, including on gambling websites, betting shops and premium phone lines – becoming the first high street bank to do so. Barclays says it has been inspired to introduce these measures by Money and Mental Health’s research on how financial firms can support customers to manage problem spending or gambling.

How banks can tackle hidden spending and gambling problems

Our analysis shows that if you’re struggling with your mental health, you’re also more likely to be susceptible to impulsive sending. Mental health problems can also lead people to become problem gamblers, increase the harm gambling causes and make it harder to quit. On the other hand, if you’re finding it difficult to manage your spending or gambling, it can have a devastating toll on your mental health, as well as on your financial situation and personal relationships.

However, these problems often go under the radar, because of the stigma around debt and problem gambling. This can prevent people from opening up to family or friends about their situation, or from seeking help.

As such, if someone is struggling with problem spending or gambling, there’s often only three organisations or people who are aware of it – the individual, the retailer or gambling firm they’re making payments to, and their bank. Banks might not be causing this harm, but it’s clear they can be part of the solution.

Why spending blocks make a difference

Alongside the secrecy and stigma that often surrounds problem spending or gambling, the ease and 24/7 availability of spending money on online retail and gambling can also make it more difficult for people to manage their spending. Ultimately, that can leave people experiencing mental health problems in serious financial difficulties.

And this is where spending blocks become important. Allowing the option to self-exclude and introduce ‘friction’ into the process of shopping or gambling can be one of the powerful ways of helping people manage their spending. It gives people more time and space to make considered decisions, and can reduce the harm that can be caused in a manic episode or an impulsive moment.

The next steps

Of course, problem spending and gambling are complex issues, and there is no single solution to address them. Nor are the measures introduced by Barclays today perfect. For example, they don’t include the same level of friction as Monzo’s gambling block, which requires customers to talk to the customers services team and to wait 48 hours before they can switch the block off. In contrast, Barclays customers will be able to remove the spending blocks by pushing a button on the banking app.

However, we shouldn’t let the pursuit of the perfect get in the way of the good. Yes, there is room for improvement in Barclays’ spending controls, and our In Control report sets out options they and other firms could consider – from demanding double-confirmation and a ‘cooling off period’ from customers seeking to remove restrictions, to requiring third party consent.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that today’s announcement could make a huge difference to the millions of people across the country who bank with Barclays, many of whom will benefit greatly from having additional spending controls. We hope that more financial firms will taking similar steps in 2019 to empower customers to avoid the devastation that problem spending and gambling can bring.