Coronavirus: Gambling firms to stop advertising during lockdown

By Simon Read
Business reporter

Image source, Getty Images

Gambling firms have agreed to stop all TV and radio advertising for games and products during the virus lockdown.

The Betting and Gaming Council said firms have voluntarily agreed to remove all advertising for at least six weeks.

The move comes amid criticism that the industry is exploiting people who are stuck at home.

TV and radio advertising slots will be replaced by safer gambling messages, donated to charities or removed from broadcast where contracts allow.

"We are determined to do everything we can to protect customers potentially at risk during this lockdown period and beyond."

"I hope now that other major gambling operators like the National Lottery follow our lead," Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher said.

BGC, which represents betting shops, online betting and gaming, bingo and casinos, said the move would result in the removal of half of all product advertising on TV and radio.

It added that all operators will "look to implement this change as rapidly as possible but no later than Thursday May 7".

Concern about gambling during the lockdown has increased. Earlier this month a cross-party group of more than 20 MPs signed a letter calling for curbs, including a moratorium on advertising.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, has also warned that the upheaval and uncertainly people face means that "now more than ever… a moral code is required from the gambling industry".

Image source, Getty Images

The move came after a separate announcement that baliff visits would be banned until the lockdown was over.

The Taking Control of Goods and Certification of Enforcement Agents (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 were laid in Parliament late on Friday and came into effect immediately.

They prevent bailiff visits during the period in which coronavirus restrictions are in place.

Other bailiff action, such as phoning debtors, is not included in the ban.

That's led to continued concerns over the impact of bailiff contact on vulnerable people during the outbreak.

"The lockdown has decimated many people's incomes," warned Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

"To avoid council tax arrears forcing people into unmanageable debt, the government needs to consider further measures."

Relief for debtors

One priority is stopping people from becoming liable for the whole year's bill after one missed payment, debt charities say.

They also asked the government to support local authorities in offering payment holidays for people who are struggling because of Covid-19.

"If the government does not act on council tax, we are risking a rush of bailiff visits to collect the resulting arrears after this crisis is over," said Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust.

She called for three-month payment holidays and changes to outdated rules that risk pushing more people into debt.

The vital next step

Statutory regulation of the bailiff sector is the "vital next step" that the Ministry of Justice should take, said Phil Andrew, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity.

"If the debt enforcement system can't be relied upon to hold off inappropriate action during the emergency period without legislation, then it can't be relied on to operate to high standards of practice without a formal regulatory system in the long term either," he said.

He said new laws would give greater confidence that debt enforcement will be handled more appropriately in the future, "addressing the woeful inadequacies that have caused such harm and detriment to vulnerable people in the past."

Debt charities have been calling for independent regulation of bailiffs for the last three years, after widespread evidence that reforms introduced in 2014 had not been effective.

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