Tackling problem gambling and debt

If gambling has affected you financially, it can be hard to talk about. But you’re not alone – and there’s help and support out there for you.

Is my gambling a problem?

Case study

“At first it seemed harmless, and I didn’t see myself cross the line into addiction – it felt like it wasn’t real. But in the first six months I was already £10,000 in debt and I was borrowing more and more money on credit cards to keep gambling.”

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 or credit card 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.

If you’re affected by problem gambling, you can call the free National Gambling helpline on 0808 8020 133. Advisers are available 24/7, offering information, advice and support. Or visit the GamCare website.

How do I clear my gambling debt?

Case study

“Even though I didn’t have any money coming in, I kept gambling – I was convinced that I could win the money back, and I was living on hardly anything.”

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.

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 definitely help in the short-term.

If you feel you need a hand to sort out your finances, see our guide to Getting informal help to manage your money.

Can I get an IVA to help clear my debts?

You might have heard of an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) as one way of dealing with your debts. An 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.

Find out more about IVAs, in our What is an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA)? guide.

And find free debt advice by using our debt advice locator.

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 a brick and mortar 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 in a venue to do this for you. Or you can arrange exclusion from specific venues or sites through ‘multi-operator self-exclusion schemes’

Gambling blocks (or spending controls)

More banks and building societies are now offering these. They give you the option to block gambling transactions via your bank accounts.

To find out which banks offer gambling blocks on debit cards, go to the GamCare website.

Neither online or brick and mortar gambling companies are allowed to accept credit card payments. Some credit card providers have blocked all gambling transactions, but it’s worth checking with your provider.

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.

Find out more about blocking software on the GamCare website.

How can my bank help me control my gambling?

You might feel nervous or embarrassed about contacting them. But it’s important to contact your bank and let them 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 may be able to help. But they can only do this if you tell them.

Creditors you owe money to could 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 may be able to offer will depend on the type of creditor they are. For example, they may be able to renegotiate your repayments. Or create a payment plan with you that you can afford. This should avoid you missing payments and paying higher fees as a result.

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

How to stop potential lenders giving you credit

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.

The main credit reference agencies offer this service:

However, be aware that if you’re already a customer your lender may not always look at your credit file.

Gambling and mental health

Did you know?

43% of people who called the National Gambling helpline last year mentioned impacts on their mental wellbeing. This includes anxiety, stress, depression, isolation and even suicidal thoughts and feelings.

As well as impacting you financially, problem gambling can also seriously affect your mental health.

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 can cause other problems too, including placing strain on your personal relationships and putting your job at risk.

For example, you may be spending more time gambling and less time with family and friends. You might be having more arguments about money, or you may struggle to focus on other things – such as work. All these issues can be signs that your gambling is a problem that you need to address.

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

Find out more in our guide on Money problems and poor mental wellbeing.

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.

However, 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

For information and advice, see the Citizens Advice website.

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.

What to do if you live with a 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.

If you think your partner is hiding a gambling addiction, ask yourself if they’re:

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

When a partner has a gambling problem, it not only hurts their own finances, but yours and the wider family too.

The first thing to do if you think your partner is a problem gambler is to get help. You don’t need to be sure they’re an addict to get advice. You can 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.

Talk to your partner about money. 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.

Our guide How to have a conversation about money gives you tips on how to prepare and make sure the conversation is constructive.

Things you can do to protect yourself and your finances. Check your credit score to see if and 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 get a loan or sign a contract with someone, you’ll be jointly responsible for paying off the loan. If they’re struggling with gambling, you put yourself at risk if you get loans, or other forms of credit, together.

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

See our page on How to improve your credit score to find out more.

You may be in a situation where you’re facing financial abuse.

To find out more about what it is, and how to address it, see our Protecting against financial abuse guide.

Make sure you claim everything you’re entitled to

If you’re living on a low income you might be entitled to claim certain benefits and get them paid in your name to top up your income.

However, if you’re claiming Universal Credit (UC) it’s 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 on Joint Universal Credit claims for couples.

And take a look at the Turn2Us benefit calculator tool to find out what extra help you might be entitled to.

Have you turned to gambling – or has your problem got worse – as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

Whether you’re stressed about job insecurity or feeling isolated, 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, remember that there’s lots of help available.

For a range of support and advice, go to the GamCare website.

Or call their free 24-hour helpline on 0808 8020 133.

If the coronavirus pandemic has made your financial situation worse:

When to get debt advice

Ignoring your debt is likely to make the situation worse. 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.

It’s best to get advice as soon you can. A debt advisor 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 many will offer tailored advice and solutions for you and your situation.

Young people and gambling

Did you know?

Evidence shows that people who gamble earlier in life are more likely to become problem gamblers in adulthood.

Gambling is becoming more of a problem among young people.

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

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

Tens of thousands of 11 to 16-year olds in the UK are problem gamblers. So you’re not alone. And there’s a lot of help out there, for young people and their families:

  • GamFam – helps families recognise the early warning signs and prevent addiction
  • BigDeal – a place for young people to find information and support related to gambling, for themselves or for someone they care about.

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

Check out GambleAware’s work on helping you avoid gambling advertising on their BeGambleAware website.

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.
  • 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.

Find out more on the Citizens Advice website.

Where can I get advice and support to help me stop gambling?

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

To find help and support near you, see the GamCare website.

If you live in Northern Ireland and need support:

GambleAware is working with social media platforms to ask them to help you avoid gambling advertising. See their progress and latest updates on the BeGambleAware websiteopens in new window.

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