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GambleAware “robustly independent” says CEO as complaint lodged

| By Marese O'Hagan
A complaint submitted to the Charity Commission by the Good Law Project about how GambleAware disseminates information has prompted CEO Zoë Osmond to defend the charity as “robustly independent” from the industry.
Good Law Project GambleAware

The Good Law Project is a not-for-profit campaign group. It is representing independent campaigner for gambling reform Will Prochaska and campaigner Annie Ashton in the complaint against GambleAware.

The Good Law Project alleges that GambleAware trustees are not meeting the charity’s aims to offer sufficient gambling harm education. According to the complaint, this has been instigated by GambleAware’s connections to the industry and its “reliance on industry funding”.

But in a statement issued to iGB, Osmond emphasised GambleAware’s role in the industry, stressing that it stands independently.

Will Prochaska and Annie Ashton, who The Good Law Project is representing in its complaint. Image credit: The Good Law Project

“We are robustly independent from the gambling industry, having long called for further regulation on gambling advertising and for the implementation of a statutory funding system to hold the gambling industry to account,” said Osmond.

The Good Law Project has requested the Charity Commission to investigate GambleAware for alleged failures to offer unbiased information.

“The Charity Commission must take action and investigate whether GambleAware is breaking charity law by failing in their duties to provide unbiased information – accepting the false narrative that gambling is a problem for individuals instead of a problem with the industry,” reads the press release from the Good Law Project. “And we’re preparing to take legal action if they refuse.”

The Charity Commission confirmed to iGB that it had received a complaint relating to GambleAware. A spokesperson said the Commission was “currently assessing the information available”, to “determine if there is a role for the Commission”.

It added that the Commission’s assessment was ongoing and no findings had yet been made.

Biased information “not acceptable”

The complaint outlines a number of alleged breaches committed by GambleAware. If GambleAware is ruled to have presented biased information to the public, the complaint states that this would contravene a regulatory alert issued to charitable think-tanks by the Charity Commission in December 2018.

According to the alert, research that presents “biased and selective” information to the public is “not acceptable”.

The complaint also calls for a statutory inquiry into GambleAware based on recent parliamentary inquiries. Among those listed is the Online Gambling Harm Inquiry carried out by the Gambling Related Harm APPG in 2020. This inquiry found that GambleAware was not in a position to carry out certain research, education and treatment (RET) functions.

“Our clients consider that the conclusions of recent parliamentary inquiries, in particular, indicate that GambleAware’s ability to advance its objects is now inhibited to such a degree that a statutory inquiry would be justified,” the complaint reads.

“They also consider that a failure to instigate one – given the high-profile, comprehensive nature of the criticisms of GambleAware – risks seriously damaging the public’s faith in the status of charities and charitable regulation.”

Turn focus to the trustees

Prochaska told iGB that people should direct questions and criticism towards GambleAware’s trustees.

“I think it’s time that we heard from the trustees to see if they believe the charity’s messaging and programmes are really serving the interests of their beneficiaries or serving the interests of their funders,” Prochaska said. “The evidence is overwhelming and they can’t simply ignore it forever.”

Osmond strenuously denied the allegations and called the claims “baseless and highly damaging”.

“As the leading charity working to keep people safe from gambling harm in Great Britain, we strongly refute the allegations made in this letter, which are both baseless and highly damaging,” she said.

In response, Prochaska said the complaint was based on charity law and had been appropriately backed up.

GambleAware Charity Commission
Osmond said she “strongly refutes” the claims made in the complaint to the Charity Commission

“The complaint that the Good Law Project put together is founded in charity law and evidence has been provided for all its assertions,” he explained. “GambleAware’s claim that it’s ‘baseless’ makes me question whether their trustees have actually read it.”

GambleAware services criticism “stigmatising”

Osmond went on to highlight the support commissioned by GambleAware. She specified the National Gambling Support Network and the National Gambling Helpline as “one of the few lines of defence available to the millions impacted by gambling harms each year”.

“Our public health campaigns, created in collaboration with people who have experienced gambling harm, break down barriers for support and shine a light on the fact gambling harm can affect anyone.”

Ben Howard, chair of GambleAware’s Lived Experience Council, offered his personal experience with the National Gambling Support Network.

“For years I struggled with gambling and I found recovery through the GambleAware-commissioned National Gambling Support Network,” he said. “I know first-hand just how essential and effective these services are and they continue to help thousands of people every year.”

He also disputed contentions of the services being inadequate, stating those claims are harmful and stigmatising for those who need support.

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