Gambling and payday loans websites blocked by Comhairle

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Online gambling and payday loan websites will be blocked from all Comhairle computers including those used by the public in local libraries.

Leader of the Comhairle Angus Campbell said he was very concerned about the availability of gambling sites and said he knew the effect this was having in his own ward in Stornoway South.

At last week’s Policy and Resources committee he said: “It’s the availability of gambling sites for members of the public. That’s having a very big effect in my own ward, it is bringing gambling into the home. I’m finding it a real issue for people in financial hardship.”

North Uist councillor Archie K Campbell said the amount of advertising for such things was extraordinary and supported moves to restrict access.

Councillors were given an update on work undertaken by the council in relation to poverty and welfare reforms and noted that a recent investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) into the business practices of payday lenders had uncovered evidence of widespread irresponsible lending and failure to comply with the standards expected.

This included lenders failing to conduct adequate assessments of affordability before lending or before rolling over loans; Failing to explain adequately how payments will be collected; and using aggressive debt collection practices.

Locally, the Western Isles Citizens Advice Service (WICAS) reports that it is dealing with increasing numbers of clients experiencing difficulties with these types of loans which may be due to the ease of access to these companies.

WICAS currently operates a Money Advice Service on behalf of the Comhairle where consumers can get free, impartial advice on debt problems and assistance with income maximisation.

Councillors agreed that consumers should be advised to think carefully before taking out a payday loan and to be aware of their rights and where to go if they have a problem.

Action to block access to such websites on public computers has already been taken by many Scottish authorities and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will now follow.

The Poverty Action Group set up by the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership is also currently collating information about the impact of changes to the welfare system on individuals and services locally.