On 1 October 2018, the Gambling Commission published new guidance on alternative dispute resolution procedures (“ADR”) in the gambling sector (“the 2018 Guidance”). The 2018 Guidance follows on from the Commission’s 2017 review of complaints processes in the gambling industry, in which the Commission concluded that the gambling industry needs to improve across a number of areas of complaints handling. The 2018 Guidance specifically focuses on ADR, and sets out key criteria and standards that ADR providers in the gambling sector must follow.

Ian Angus, the Gambling Commission’s Programme Director for Consumer Protection and Empowerment, states, “the standards … seek to simplify existing complaints processes and ensure consumer complaints are handled in a fair, timely, transparent and effective manner.”

Further details on the 2018 Guidance are provided below.

What is ADR?

ADR processes (such as mediation or adjudication) enable gambling operators and consumers to resolve disputes without going to court. ADR can make it easier for consumers to seek redress against gambling operators and can reduce costs and delays for all parties concerned.

In the UK, ADR is primarily governed by the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competition Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015 (“the 2015 Regulations”), which established the Gambling Commission as a competent authority for the regulation of ADR in the gambling sphere. This means that the Commission is empowered to approve ADR providers wishing to offer services to gambling consumers, and is responsible for ensuring that ADR providers continue to meet the requirements of the 2015 Regulations.

In the gambling sector, ADR is only used to resolve “disputes” - a type of complaint about either contractual obligations in sales or services contracts or the customer’s gambling transaction (including management of the transaction and related customer accounts) that has not been resolved through normal complaints procedures. For example, a dispute might be linked to the terms of a bonus offer, or might relate to a consumer’s ability to access deposited funds or winnings. Consumers can choose to take disputes to ADR if they are not resolved to their satisfaction within 8 weeks.

Key principles from the 2018 Guidance

The 2018 Guidance enumerates a number of key policies for ADR providers in the gambling sector. For example:

  • ADR providers must furnish consumers with information on whether the outcome of a dispute will ever be reconsidered, including grounds for such reconsideration and any applicable time limits.
  • ADR providers must be transparent about how they are funded and whether they are independent, including specifying whether they have any conflicts of interest.
  • ADR providers must implement a robust review (at least annually) of dispute outcomes, service standards and service quality as well as governance arrangements.
  • ADR providers must acknowledge receipt of a consumer’s initial contact within 3 working days and provide an update to the consumer at the end of each 30 days that the dispute is ongoing.
  • In adjudicating a dispute, ADR providers must take full account of the relevant information provided, and ensure that the parties have had a fair opportunity to make their own case and that there has been no bias.
  • ADR providers must consider whether the language the consumer has used in raising the dispute indicates that they might be vulnerable or need additional support to understand the ADR process; if so, the provider may need to consider implementing accessibility measures. The ADR provider should also be alert to indications that a consumer’s gambling behaviour puts them at risk of being harmed, and should sign-post customers to gambling management tools where appropriate.

Conclusions

The standards imposed by the 2018 Guidance further reflect the Gambling Commission’s recent push towards increased consumer protection, particularly in respect of vulnerable persons. In fact, the 2018 Guidance is set to come into force on 31 October 2018 – the same date that new changes to the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice will come into force requiring operators to improve their complaints processes, including the imposition of an 8-week deadline for complaints to be resolved.