IBAS argues ‘compelling case’ for gambling ombudsman in annual report

The Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) has published its annual report for the year 2019/20, reiterating calls for the creation of a gambling ombudsman to handle industry related complaints. 

Overall, IBAS found that the volume of formal requests for adjudication were reduced by approximately 15%, largely attributed to the closure of betting shops, racecourses, casinos and bingo clubs, although the number of informal complaints remained at a similar level to 2018/19.

Despite this 15% reduction, the number of disputes concerning the identity of online account holders increased from 774 to 945 during the last year, and issues relating to self-exclusion were identified as one of the ‘difficult areas’ of the year, with IBAS requesting policy guidance form the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) with regards to around 100 cases concerning bettors who had gambled whilst self-excluded.

Regarding total dispute volumes for the year, the number of domestic consumers complaining to domestic operators stood at 4,475 (2018/19: 5,235), whilst the number of overseas customers complaining to domestic operators stood at 1,198 (2018/19: 1,052).

Of these total complaints, 2,511 of complaints were resolved, representing 56% of all disputes (2018/19 3,196, 61%), whilst 1,964 were rejected, accounting for 44% (2018/19, 12,039, 39%).

Lastly, the vast majority of cases for both timeframes concerned disputed settlement criteria and/or bet instructions, accounting for 1,048 (2018/19, 1,396), although again a decrease was noted, primarily due to a reduction in retail betting services. However, the number of disputes regarding banking transactions increased from 176 to 1300.

“2020 was a year of unprecedented political and public interest in gambling, consumer protection and complaints handling,” said Richard Hayler, Managing Director of IBAS.

“It was also a logistically challenging period which our staff, adjudication panellists and directors have adapted to wholeheartedly and professionally. We provided dispute resolution to consumers and businesses without interruption or government assistance.

“The government’s ongoing review of gambling legislation has created some uncertainty about the future but we remain committed to developing and improving our service further. In 2020 we considered over 5,500 formally submitted requests for ADR from UK and international consumers and we provided informal advice to many thousands of others.”

Further setting out its ‘compelling case’ for the creation of a gambling ombudsman, the organisation highlighted that a total of 653 customers who registered on the IBAS website and completed an online claim form were instead referred to the UKGC, as their disputes were classified as ‘regulatory complaints’.

This is due to the UKGC’s Standards for ADR Providers (2018) stating that complaints regarding Social Responsibility Code of Conduct failures should be reported to the regulator as regulatory complaints.

In turn, this creates an issue for complainants, as the UKGC does not consider consumer disputes, creating what IBAS has described as an ‘unwelcome and confusing gap in the industry’s complaints handling framework’.

“We believe that if the government embraces the concept of a Gambling Ombudsman our body of experience – over 80,000 formal adjudication processes in over 20 years – provides the obvious foundation for a new type of service,” Hayler continued.

“We hope that DCMS will recommend an expansion of the current remit of ADR to maximise the number of consumer complaints that can be properly addressed, but we have already begun to explore the practical challenges that will bring. 

“We hope that proposals may also be forthcoming from the review about how the most effective partnership between regulator and ombudsman – if one is recommended – can be achieved.”

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