Katrina Gaffney, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health

Gambling blocks: the odds are that your bank now offers one

14 November 2019

Tackling the psychological and financial harm caused by problem gambling has been a key aim for Money and Mental Health since the beginning. In particular, we’ve long called for financial firms to give people the tools they need to block spending on gambling, as well as other purchases. These tools could make a big difference in helping people better manage their money and avoid financial difficulty. 

This campaign has been gathering momentum over the past few years, and yesterday we heard the exciting news that HSBC has announced that it will be the latest bank to offer customers a gambling block. This will include a cooling off period, which means people who have switched the block on will have to wait 24 hours before switching it off. Moreover, HSBC has said it they will analyse data on card spending to see who would benefit most from advice – a move that echoes the recommendations in our latest Data Protecting report

This follows the news in recent weeks that Lloyds’ gambling block is now live for customers. These advancements mark another milestone in the evolution of spending blocks from being a speciality feature driven by challenger banks, to a tool being offered across the financial sector – including by a number of major highstreet banks.

We thought that this was a good opportunity to recap on why spending blocks matter, and to look at how these tools have been adopted across the financial services sector. 

Why are gambling blocks useful?

Mental health problems can lead people to become problem gamblers, increase the harm caused by problem gambling, and make it harder to quit. Our research has highlighted that people experiencing mental health problems can often struggle with impulse control and this can make people more susceptible to problem gambling. 

The negative consequences of problem gambling can be severe, and not just for an individual’s financial situation – problem gambling can cause significant psychological distress and even lead to relationship break down. However, it can be difficult for people who struggle with problem gambling to quit. This is especially true in a society where people are so frequently exposed to gambling products and such products have become so easy to access. Giving individuals the ability to block gambling payments on their cards is an opportunity to limit the harmful effects of problem gambling and help people who are struggling with managing their impulse control.

What are banks currently offering?

More and more firms are giving customers the option to block gambling payments in some form – but what this looks like varies between banks. Here’s what we know banks are offering so far:

  • Monzo also has a gambling block available through it’s app – once this has been turned on, customers need to speak to a member of the customer services team and then wait 48 hours if they want to turn the block off 
  • Starling offers the option for customers to block spending on gambling through their app. When an individual turns the block off they receive a message signposting to the National Gambling Helpline
  • Barclays customers can block gambling payment through their online banking app with a button that can be instantly switched on and off
  • Natwest offers a gambling block on credit cards but not debit cards
  • Santander offers a gambling block through their money management app – ‘Spendlytics’
  • Lloyds is now offering offer a gambling block which takes 48 hours to deactivate once it has been turned on.

Do we need more friction?

The amount of ‘friction’ customers face when turning off gambling blocks is a really important consideration for banks developing these features, and we were particularly pleased to see both Lloyds and HSBC include a ‘cooling off’ period. This can help give people time to reflect on their decisions and minimise the harm of impulsive decisions. Monzo’s focus on ensuring people speak to someone from the customer services team before switching off the block (which only comes into action 48 hours later) is another feature which we’d like other firms to consider. 

It is great to see so many firms in the banking industry starting to offer spending blocks as a way of helping customers manage their finances. In the coming years, we hope to see many more firms offering similar tools, and building on this progress by ensuring friction is at the heart of their designs.