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Tackling problem gambling and debt

Is my gambling a problem?

If you think your gambling is a problem, it’s important to be honest and talk about it. If you don’t, your situation is likely to get worse.

If you’re gambling to make money rather than for fun, it may be time to get help. For example, if you see it as an alternative to saving or borrowing an amount you can afford to pay back from a bank, building society or other lender, this is a sign that you may have a problem.

If you think you might have a problem, some warning signs are if you’re:

  • using your overdraft, other forms of credit or borrowing from family or friends to pay for gambling
  • missing payments to debts or priority bills because you’ve spent the money on gambling
  • gambling to try and win money to pay off your debts.

If any of these sound familiar, it’s time to get help.

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How do I clear my gambling debt?

Gambling often leads to debt.

As well as addressing your gambling, it’s important to get financial help too.

Dealing with debt can feel overwhelming and stressful. But it’s best to tackle your finances now. Getting them under control is an important first step.

You may not be borrowing money to gamble – but perhaps you’re using the money that you should be spending on food and rent, for example.

It’s important to pay priority bills first. These are the one that have the most serious consequences if you don’t pay them. They include:

  • rent or mortgage payments
  • Council Tax
  • gas and electricity
  • income tax, national insurance and VAT
  • child maintenance payments.

Ideally, pay these on the day you’re paid – before you may be tempted to use the money to gamble.

It’s important to get free debt advice to help you.

Our Beginner’s guide to managing money also has some really useful information and tips.

Setting a budget could be useful It might help you better understand, and take control of, your finances.

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Handing over your finances to someone you trust while you address your gambling is an option. While it’s not a long-term solution, it’s can  help in the short-term.

One way of doing this by using a third-party mandate. This is a document that tells a person’s bank, building society or other account provider that they can accept instructions about that person’s money from another specific named person.

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Self-help tips to help you stop gambling

There are various ways you can help yourself to stop gambling. These include:

Self-exclusion

You can self-exclude yourself from gambling companies, either online or in an actual venue. This means you ask the business to stop you from gambling with them, usually for between six months to five years. You can ask staff directly to do this for you. Or you can arrange exclusion from specific venues or sites through ‘multi-operator self-exclusion schemes’.

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Gambling blocks (or spending controls)

More banks and building societies now give you the option to block gambling transactions made through your bank accounts using a debit card.

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You can’t use a credit card to pay for online or land-based gambling transactions.

It is still possible to use a credit card to pay for lottery tickets face to face in newsagents and supermarkets. The National Lottery won’t accept online payments and other lottery gambling operators won’t accept them either. If this is a problem, you can ask your credit card company to prevent transactions to these operators too.

Blocking software

This is a computer programme that limits access to websites or other online services. Some software is free, sometimes there’s a fee. It’s important to do your research and find out which is the best one for you.

Your internet service provider may be able to offer you to opt out of all adult sites. Or supply you with anti-virus software that allows you to block certain areas, such as gambling.

You can also ask your mobile phone or interactive TV provider to limit or block your access to gambling services.

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How can my bank help me control my gambling?

You might feel nervous or embarrassed about contacting your bank but it’s important to contact them so they know about your situation.

Banks can help you in various ways. These include:

  • temporarily freezing your card when you feel like your spending is getting out of control
  • changing the amount of money you can take out of cash machines each day, or switch off cash withdrawals altogether.

How your creditors can help you with your gambling debt

If you’re in debt and you’re struggling to make payments, it’s important to speak to your creditors. They might be able to help. But they can only do this if you tell them.

Creditors you owe money to might include:

  • your local council if you’re struggling to pay your Council Tax
  • credit card or loan providers
  • your landlord or mortgage lender.

The help might be able to offer to  renegotiate your repayments.

Create a payment plan with you that you can afford. This will help you avoid  missing payments and paying higher fees as a result.

If you can show them the steps you’re taking to stop gambling, this might make them more willing to help you.

How to stop potential lenders giving you credit

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If you’re at risk of applying for credit to fund your gambling, you can let potential lenders know that you don’t want them to lend to you.

You can do this by adding a ‘note’ (also known as a Notice of Correction [NOC]) to your credit file. Lenders will see this and should take into account what you’ve written in the note.

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Gambling and mental health

Problem gambling can  seriously affect your mental health, as well as your finances.

If you gamble to escape mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety or depression, it will only make these feelings worse.

Not only that, it might cause other problems too, including placing strain on your personal relationships and putting your job at risk.

As well as tackling your gambling, it’s important to address any mental health issues too.

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How can I protect my family from debt caused by my gambling?

Gambling, and its financial impact, can significantly affect yours and your family’s health and wellbeing.

But if you gamble and it’s causing problems financially, it’s important to get advice. Especially if:

  • you have a joint credit card or loan with your partner
  • you have a joint benefit claim and you get the money
  • you own your home jointly with your partner.
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Having separate accounts for both current account and credit cards can help to protect a partner’s finances.

It might be worth considering cancelling or removing your access to joint accounts. Also, making sure you don’t have access to a large amount of money without your partner’s knowledge. For example, through re-mortgaging your home or taking out a loan.

Talk to your bank or credit provider about any other measures they can put in place to support you.

It’s really important to not to lend money to someone who’s struggling with gambling, as this might only make the situation worse. 

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What to do if you live with someone who is struggling with gambling

If your partner is gambling and has lost control of the situation, it can have a devastating impact on your finances and relationship.

Signs your partner is hiding a gambling addiction include:

  • being secretive about their finances
  • being cagey or defensive about money
  • hiding bank statements
  • taking money out of accounts without explanation.

Of course, these could be signs of other problems so the first thing to do is get to the bottom of things.

Talk to your partner first

It can be hard to know where to start if you need to talk to your partner about their gambling problem, or you suspect they might have one.

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If you think your partner is a problem gambler and you can’t talk to them first, you can get help

Even if they’re not ready to get help, there’s plenty of help and support for you.

Call GamCare’s helpline on 0808 8020 133. They’ll help you figure out what your next steps should be.

If you don’t feel like talking to someone over the phone

GamCare have an online service called Netline This allows you to exchange instant messages with an adviser. There are also online forums where people who’ve been affected by problem gambling can talk and support each other.

Things you can do to protect yourself and your finances

Check your credit score to see if how you’re linked to them financially. For example, if you have a joint mortgage or both your names are on a rental agreement, or you have joint bank accounts.

If you have a loan or sign a contract with someone, you’re  jointly responsible for repayments. If they’re struggling with gambling, you put yourself at risk if those payments aren’t met.

Keeping your finances separate can help protect your credit score and protect you financially.

Recognising economic abuse

You could be a victim of financial or economic abuse if you’re:

  • being forced into taking out joint loans or credit to fund your partner’s gambling;
  • your partner has taken out loans or credit in your name without your knowledge or consent to use for gambling.
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Protecting income from welfare benefits

If Universal Credit (UC) is usually paid as single household payment.

If you’re worried about your partner using the money to gamble you can ask your work coach for an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA).

This means your UC payment can be paid entirely to you or you can split the payment with your partner so you can keep control of the money you need.

For more information, read our guide Joint Universal Credit claims for couples.

To find out what extra help you might be entitled to, use the benefit calculator tool on the Turn2Us website

If you’ve turned to gambling – or your problem has got worse – as a result of coronavirus restrictions

Whether you’re stressed about job insecurity, feeling isolated or simply bored during lockdown, the coronavirus outbreak has been hard for lots of people in various ways.

It has made many turn to gambling. And for others, it has made a gambling problem worse.

If this sounds like you there’s lots of help available.

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When to get debt advice

Ignoring your debts is likely to make the situation worse so it’s important to talk to someone and get help.

If you’re not able to make repayments on debts and are behind on your bills, now is the time to get free debt advice.

A debt adviser will help you to find ways to manage your debts. It’s a good idea to let them know that your debt is a result of gambling as they’ll be able to offer tailored advice and solutions for you and your situation.

Can I get an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) to help clear my debts?

An Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) freezes your debts and allows you to pay them back over a set period of time.

There are many things to think about before you take out an IVA. And it’s important to remember that it’s only one of the ways you could deal with your debts.

It’s always best to talk things through with an experienced debt adviser as the solution that’s best for you depends on your own personal circumstances.

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Find out more about how debts are collected when you’re in arrears on the StepChange website

There’s more information about how to make a plan to pay your debts on the Citizens Advice website

To find out how to reduce your outgoings to help catch up with your repayments, check out the StepChange website

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Young people and gambling

Problem gambling among 11 to 16-year-olds is increasing and affects tens of thousands of young people.

Research by Cardiff University found that among 11 to 16-year-olds, the most popular forms of gambling are fruit machines, playing cards for money with friends and scratch cards.

While this can be seen as harmless, for many it’s just the start of gambling becoming a problem.

Admitting your child has a problem can feel embarrassing or shameful. Don’t worry, there is dedicated help for families. 

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Part of the issue is the amount of gambling advertising young people are exposed to on television, online and on social media.

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Rules for gambling and young people

Gambling companies shouldn’t allow anyone under 18 to gamble.

In the UK, there are just two exceptions:

  • From 16, you can buy National Lottery products, including draw-based games, scratch cards and online instant wins. However, from October 2021 these will only be available for people 18 and over. 
  • There are no age restrictions on category-D games machines, which include fruit machines.

You can complain to the Gambling Commission if you think a company hasn’t followed the rules.

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Find out more

As well as tackling your finances, it’s important to address your gambling at the same time.

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Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free, impartial help for all your money and pension choices. Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free, impartial help for all your money and pension choices. Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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