IBAS sets sights on UK Gambling Ombudsman role

The Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) has set out its case for becoming a potential UK Gambling Ombudsman, detailing operational and financial considerations. 

Recognising the creation of a Gambling Ombudsman as a potential outcome of the Gambling Act review White Paper, the group asserted that it could take on the role ‘faster than any entirely new service could be created’ due to its experience in this area.

A new ombudsman should not be ‘learning on the job’, IBAS has asserted, pointing to how it currently handles around 80% of UK gambling complaints after offering its services to the market for 25 years. 

Cost was also a particular area of concern for IBAS, both for public funds and customers – the group stated that establishing a new ombudsman would require substantial financial backing, whilst detailing that its service would be ‘free and easy to use’. 

“IBAS’s experience, expertise and commitment to independent decisions are unparalleled – having resolved over 85,000 gambling disputes,” said Richard Hayler, IBAS Managing Director. 

“I welcome the creation of a new Ombudsman, but for this to work it needs to be run by an organisation that understands the sector and has a track record of helping and protecting consumers.”

Calls for a Gambling Ombudsman are nothing new in UK betting, with Hayler asserting that such a service was still a necessity after the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) updated its customer complaints terms and conditions earlier this year. 

Operationally, IBAS predicts that the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) would establish an Ombudsman in order to ‘reduce harmful gambling and for the prevention of complaints’ – in line with what is ‘Fair and Reasonable’ as defined in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.

The service further anticipates a need for cooperation with the Commission to ‘define the parameters’ for considering harmful gambling disputes and provision of customer advice and protection. 

Planning to enhance transparency and build industry links, IBAS’ Ombudsman service would make case studies available via its website and ‘regulatory publish’ data and insights to raise awareness and ‘prevent complaints and awareness raising’.

“We will take on and expand the work started by IBAS, providing informal advice and guidance to consumers, helping in navigating sometimes complex complaints processes and signposting where appropriate to other services and organisations,” the group’s plans read

“We will set out detailed performance targets in support of these aims and concerning our cost, efficiency, and timeliness. We will publish our performance against these targets each quarter. We will be committed to making gambling fairer and safer, to the benefit of consumers and gambling businesses.”

Hayler added: “An Ombudsman with additional resources, built on the foundations of IBAS is best placed to hit the ground running, protecting consumers, and raising industry standards through fair, consistent decision making and constructive dispute avoidance feedback.”

In its first year of operations as Ombudsman, IBAS expects to handle 7,500 complaints and resolve 5,000, whilst anticipating that ‘some 2,000’ will need to be referred back to businesses’ internal complaints systems and 500 will fall outside its remit. 

Additionally, the firm is predicting 10,000 requests for advice or support from gambling consumers and businesses that don’t progress to an actual dispute, as well as interactions with claims management companies representing historic complaints. 

Financially, IBAS expects a cost base of around £3.5m annually, business registration fixed fees of £1m to fund the transition period, ‘per case payments’ of up to £2.5m.

Further costs would include average resolved case fee of £400 with a lower median fee and an average handling fee of £25 per enquiry or operator request. 

“It’s an exciting time for the gambling industry,” added Andrew Fraser, IBAS Chairman. “There is a real opportunity to enhance the service offered to gambling customers through a new Ombudsman. 

“IBAS has been committed to providing an accessible, fair, and independent service to all gambling consumers. 

“Our plan for a Gambling Ombudsman would make sure consumers are protected and avoid the backlog of complaints. On top of this, this plan provides a solution that works for government, the regulator, and the industry.”

However, although IBAS expects an Ombudsman to be a key requirement of the Gambling Act review judgement, in the aftermath of Boris Johnson’s resignation announcement – preceded by the departure of Gambling Minister Chris Philpit is unclear when the White Paper will be published.

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