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Case update 21 May 2024

Charity Commission opens investigation into GambleAware

Erik McLean / Unsplash

Gambling education charity reliant on industry funding faces regulatory compliance case, after a complaint supported by Good Law Project.

Trigger warning: suicide

The Charity Commission has begun formal action against the gambling education charity GambleAware, opening a regulatory compliance case into its apparent breaches of charity law.

In March, we helped Annie Ashton, whose husband Luke took his own life due to gambling harm, and the gambling reform campaigner Will Prochaska to submit a complaint to the charities regulator. We argued that GambleAware’s long-standing reliance on industry funding means that all its activities are based on the industry’s framing of gambling: that “problem gambling” is to be addressed by educating individuals to gamble “responsibly” instead of avoiding gambling altogether. In adopting this narrative and failing to warn people of industry practices that are designed to incite gambling addiction, GambleAware is failing to meet its charitable objectives. 

GambleAware called our claims misleading, suggesting that they might undermine its services and pose risks to those seeking gambling treatment. But – as our complaint sets out – GambleAware’s services are already undermined because they can’t promote treatment solutions that recognise the industry’s predatory tactics. NHS England announced in 2022 that it would no longer accept funding from GambleAware for treatment services, due to concerns about its lack of independence from the gambling industry.

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According to Will Prochaska, GambleAware’s response shows it’s in “complete denial”.

“They continue to put reputation management above the needs of their beneficiaries,” he said. 

Annie Ashton welcomed the regulator’s investigation, but remains concerned by any delay.

“As a person directly affected by the destruction and harm caused by gambling, I would urge the Charity Commission to act promptly,” she said. “GambleAware’s education resources are inadequate and should not be delivered to our children. It is important that messaging around gambling harm does not stigmatise those who may need help.”

Last month, following sustained legal pressure brought to bear by a cross-party group of MPs with our support, the commission also said it would report on climate denial charity the Global Warming Policy Foundation. We argued the commission’s delay was contributing to an unlawful distortion of the debate around the climate crisis. 

Whilst we await the promised report, we’ve also supported a formal complaint over the commission’s irrational handling of another complaint – against the Institute of Economic Affairs – the infamous rightwing think-tank widely credited as the inspiration for Liz Truss’s disastrous budget. With uncharacteristic speed, the commission cleared the think-tank despite its poor regulatory history, praising the role of think-tanks for contributing to “intellectual debate”. We’re preparing grounds for legal action if it fails to carry out its duties. 

We believe charities should be run for public benefit, not for the shady interests who fund them. We’ll continue to hold the regulator accountable, so it steps up to stop charities breaking the law.