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A car accident last year left Stuart with delusions and mania, disorders distorting his notions of money’s value and risk. During recovery he descended into a hellish spiral, opening numerous betting accounts. All are regulated by the UK’s Gambling Commission. Addicted to roulette, in one frenzy he spent £12,000 in five weeks, in another £4,400 in a fortnight. Much of the money came from the accident claim pay out he received that was meant to support him and his potentially lifelong disabilities. But he also took out bank and doorstep loans.
In January Stuart, 28, tried to kill himself and his dad Jeff gained power of attorney over his affairs.
When Stuart and Jeff asked Crusader for support, Jeff told us: “My efforts at first were focussed only on him getting better. I was pleased he could use his phone and occupy himself a bit during the long hours he spent in hospital. I didn’t realise what was going on and that he was gambling excessively.
“When the damage was done he was an adult in charge of his money, the accident had been terrible for him and I didn’t want to do anything to undermine him any further. Whenever I’ve tried to explain his problem, the response is about addiction and a blind eye is turned to the reason for it in Stuart’s case.”
As the losses mounted Stuart asked the companies for compassion, provided medical proof and Jeff sent his power of attorney.
After months some have acted responsibly, settling in full. One inexplicably deducted 30 percent (£1,000) and imposed a gagging order. Another is still haggling over how much to return.
Threats of legal action were commonplace when Stuart and Jeff pleaded for refunds.
The £5,000 high cost, short term loan has run up £2,000 in interest so far. One company Novibet returned Stuart’s £2,000 last week.
Threats of legal action were commonplace when Stuart and Jeff pleaded for refunds
But another, TonyBet, has refused to return the £20,000 Stuart claims he lost.
“They wouldn’t accept my power of attorney at first and say their decision is final,” claims Jeff. Crusader has contacted the company, but so far without success.
From the evidence we’ve seen there appears a striking contradiction between the brutal individual brush-offs issued and companies’ public declarations promising support for anyone vulnerable.”
Extreme and distressing as Stuart’s experience is, it also encompasses wider concerns about the gambling industry, its response to social responsibilities and the narrow scope of consumer redress.
The Government is currently conducting a review of gambling rules that at present are bound by tight remits. The industry’s dispute resolution service IBAS says it is unable to consider a complaint concerning an alleged breach of licence conditions, for example acting in an irresponsible manner.
The Gambling Commission told Stuart and Jeff it would note the complaint, but it couldn’t help as it was a regulator not an ombudsman.
Between 250 and 650 gambling related suicides happen in the UK each year
“I have also been advised to get a Data Access Subject Request (known as a Dsar) to pursue complaints,” says Jeff.
“But there is no obligation on companies to supply that information and I have just been ignored. My son has been bombarded with rules and regulations and advised to get help for his ‘addiction’.
“But no notice has been taken of his circumstances. It just makes the pressure the worse and creates a minefield, people like my son don’t stand a chance.”
“The time has come for the Government to introduce a regime to tackle the [industry’s] methods,” says MP Carolyn Harris, chair of the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group.
“Whilst the reluctance of the companies and regulator to action complaints appears to be incredible, in reality it is something we see over and over again.”
“The UK Government must urgently legislate to create a gambling ombudsman with the power to enforce a statutory duty of care on gambling operators and the power to provide redress,” urges chief executive Will Prochaska of charity Gambling With Lives (GWL) founded by families bereaved by gambling related suicide.
Between 250 and 650 gambling related suicides happen in the UK every year, and GWL helped support Jeff providing advice as he tried to navigate the current system’s tortuous processes.
“It’s not surprising that multiple UK regulated gambling operators were happy to take this young man’s money or that they’ve been resistant to giving it back,” adds Prochaska.
Nichola Marshall, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, is representing the family to obtain redress from TonyBet. Given Stuart’s capacity and vulnerability, she said: “As the individual was suffering from a serious brain injury at the time of placing the bets, it appears unlikely that they had the capacity to enter into a valid and enforceable legal contract. We will be challenging the validity of the contract”.
Following another breakdown Stuart is back in hospital.
· Stuart and Jeff’s names have been changed Charity Gambling With Lives advocates for changes to the systems of legislation, regulation, research, education and treatment in the UK: www.gamblingwithlives.org