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Affordability checks will be examined during a pilot study to understand the effects prior to a wider UK rollout.

In an update, the Gambling Commission outlined the next steps for affordability checks following the consultation, often considered the most controversial measure in the government’s slate of reforms.

The regulator envisions the financial vulnerability checks to have two levels, in-line with its consultation on the topic. The pilot will last between four and six months.

Publicly available information such as bankruptcy orders and a history of unpaid debts will be used for the “light touch” stage of checks.

Following the consultation, these will not consider individual personal details such as job title or postcode.

Last September, the Commission faced a backlash when executive director of research and policy Tim Miller said postcode checks would be used to check affordability in a DCMS select committee hearing.

To ease the introduction of the checks, the UKGC said it intends to implement them at a higher threshold to begin with. This will be followed by a reversion to the long-term lower threshold.

The UKGC said the details of this will be set out at in a full response document to the affordability checks consultation, to be published at a later date.

UKGC commits to affordability pilot

The industry has indicated it can broadly live with these first stage checks, which are largely invisible to consumers and relatively unintrusive.

However, it is the second stage of the checks, which will enter force using credit reference data and other personal financial details, that has caused controversy with UK industry and consumers.  

The pushback against the measure has been led by the horse racing industry, which relies on betting revenue to survive and has significant influence in parliament.

After receiving over 100,000 signatures, a petition calling for the government to abandon the implementation of the checks will be debated in parliament next Monday (26 Feb).

To attempt to assuage concerns and implement a common consultation response, the UKGC will first implement a pilot study to test how the proposed data share works in practice.

“The pilot will enable us to test the details of data-sharing in practice, working with credit reference agencies and gambling businesses, thinking always about what this means for the consumer,” said Miller.

“Our approach is that consumers should not be affected during a pilot period to make sure that we can refine the data sharing processes before the assessments are rolled out in a live environment.”

Details of study

The Commission said the pilot will be conducted with a selection of operators from different verticals such as betting and casino.

Throughout the pilot period, participating businesses will not be expected to act on the data they receive, with consumers to be protected by existing safety controls and regulatory requirements.

The UKGC said it intends for the measure to be frictionless for “the vast majority” of consumers.

How many players who do experience friction, and in what circumstances, is likely to play an important role in how industry responds to the pilot.

Ahead of next week’s parliamentary debate, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) again called on the government to ensure the checks had been properly considered.

It also highlighted a recent Regulus Partners study which suggested that between 600 and 1,000 jobs could be in jeopardy from the planned checks.

“The latest data, which highlights the terrible scale of job losses that could result from these checks on betting as currently proposed, showcases yet again the importance of this issue and the need for government to get it right,” said BHA chief executive Julie Harrington.

“We look forward to the issue of affordability checks being properly debated by MPs. The BHA has worked tirelessly with stakeholders from across the sport to ensure as many parliamentarians as possible have been contacted in advance of the debate and urged to take part.

“While we want to manage expectations on whether the debate can deliver an immediate change in government policy, we continue to call for a rethink on the proposals to strike a better balance between protecting vulnerable customers and allowing those who gamble safely and responsibly to do so unimpacted.”

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