NatWest launches counselling for gambling addicts

NatWest launches counselling for gambling addicts after realising large numbers of customers are spending big chunks of their income on betting

  • Research using sample of NatWest accounts found one in ten were gamblers
  • The bank will offer support to gamblers (even if they are not NatWest customers)
  • Those with a gambling problem can see a counsellor and get free treatment
  • The pilot scheme which trialled in London and the South East is being expanded 

Gambling addicts are being offered psychological counselling in branches of NatWest.

The bank launched a pilot scheme – which is now being expanded – after realising large numbers of customers are spending big chunks of their income on online betting.

Those with a problem are able to see a counsellor and get free treatment – even if they are not a customer. 

Addiction to gambling – a problem that the Mail has campaigned to solve – is a big issue for the banks. Their profits could be hit if they are forced to write off large sums from customers who fall into debt because of out-of-control betting [File photo]

Research by the lender last year using anonymised data on 750,000 account-holders’ spending habits found one in ten were gamblers.

On average, they spent more than a quarter of their incomes on gambling. This often put them in debt or left them with no savings.

The bank, which is owned by RBS, launched a pilot counselling scheme with charity GamCare in 13 branches in London and the South East in the autumn.

It has been so successful that NatWest will expand it into more of its 846 branches, probably by the end of this year.

Chief executive Alison Rose has not set a firm number of branches where help will be offered.

The bank launched a pilot scheme – which is now being expanded – after realising large numbers of customers are spending big chunks of their income on online betting [File photo]

However, she hopes counsellors can be given space in a branch in every area where there is a high level of need from addicts who would otherwise struggle to get help. 

She said: ‘Our work with GamCare has delivered real benefits for the users of its services.

‘We are working with GamCare to consider how to best extend the scheme to more locations.’ The bank is scoping out locations with GamCare. 

Miss Rose, who took over as boss of state-backed RBS late last year, is changing the banking group’s name to NatWest in a bid to break with its disgraceful past under former chief executive Fred Goodwin.

She is keen to restore its reputation after it had to be bailed out by taxpayers in the financial crisis.

Individuals who want help with their gambling addiction can make an appointment by phoning a helpline.

They will be assessed to work out what treatment they need, ranging from group therapy sessions to a full course of psychodynamic therapy, depending how deep-seated their problems are.

Research by the lender last year using anonymised data on 750,000 account-holders’ spending habits found one in ten were gamblers. On average, they spent more than a quarter of their incomes on gambling [File photo]

Counsellors will try to find out what triggers a client’s need to bet.

Catherine Sweet, of GamCare, said: ‘People sometimes turn to gambling as an escape or a coping mechanism if they are having tough times at work or in their relationship. But often it exacerbates the problem. The counsellors try to dig deeper and teach people how to deal with it in a more positive way.

‘Sometimes there is stigma attached to gambling problems and some people might feel it is easier to pop to a bank with relative anonymity.’

Along with other banks, NatWest allows customers to block themselves from spending on gambling on their current accounts or credit cards via its mobile app.

It is also putting hundreds of staff through training provided by GamCare on how to identify customers at risk of harm and how to support people who want to quit gambling.

Addiction to gambling – a problem that the Mail has campaigned to solve – is a big issue for the banks.

Their profits could be hit if they are forced to write off large sums from customers who fall into debt because of out-of-control betting.

The Gambling Commission estimated there are around 340,000 adult problem gamblers in this country plus a further 550,000 suffering ‘moderate harm’.

The bank, which is owned by RBS, launched a pilot counselling scheme with charity GamCare in 13 branches in London and the South East in the autumn. It has been so successful that NatWest will expand it into more of its 846 branches, probably by the end of this year [File photo]

Rival bank HSBC gets around 1,000 calls every month about problem gambling. That compares with 400 relating to alcohol and 2,000 about relationship breakdowns.

Maxine Pritchard, HSBC’s head of financial inclusion and vulnerability, said: ‘We believe this is the tip of an iceberg. Our staff are trained by GamCare counsellors to identify people who may be vulnerable.’

It allows customers to put a 24-hour block on gambling transactions to act as a cooling-off period.

The bank offers a basic account with no lending facilities, so gamblers are not tempted to run up more betting losses.

Lloyds has blocks on debit and credit cards so customers can stop gambling, and also a 48-hour cooling-off period for removing the block. Barclays lets customers turn off spending on certain types of retailers, including gambling sites.

It also lets customers limit daily cash machine withdrawals.

Advisers from GamCare are available 24 hours a day on freephone 0808 8020 133 or via web chat at www.gamcare.org.uk.

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