"Monzo helped me beat my gambling addiction and pay off £26,000 in debt"

Read the article

Like up to 430,000 other people in the UK, Manchester-based Danny Cheetham has a gambling addiction. After years trapped in a cycle of gambling and debt, Danny owed payday lenders almost £26,000 and more interest than his monthly wage could cover.

But with the help of Monzo’s gambling block feature, as of October last year Danny is finally debt-free. We speak to the 30-year-old IT technician about how the addiction impacted his life, and the steps he took to beat it.

How did your gambling problem start?

The moment I turned 18, I took a liking to the bookies and betting terminals. I just did it for fun then, with any spare money I had. If I won, it was enough for a night out. It was a pastime.

But I kept going. By my early twenties, whenever payday came I’d have gambled away my whole wage by 9am. I’d be up at four o’clock in the morning, gambling it away. Then on my way to work I’d be applying for payday loans to try and get through the month. I thought the only way to clear the payday debt was by making another bet. I couldn’t see a way of getting out besides gambling again and again.

By my early twenties, whenever payday came I’d have gambled away my whole wage by 9am.

The worst moments were walking into the office on payday. Everyone else was happy, buying breakfast out to celebrate. I’d be wondering how I was going to get through the month with nothing in the bank.

And because I didn’t want people to know, I’d find myself buying my lunch at work or going shopping. But it was just a cover story. I couldn’t let anyone know I was struggling.

With gambling, people think that because you put the money in the machine, it’s all your fault. They don’t realise the machines are made to be addictive.

People think that because you put the money in the machine, it’s all your fault. They don’t realise the machines are made to be addictive.

Danny and his mum

If you’re in debt because of gambling, there’s always that light of a jackpot flashing in front of you. You think your life could be better if you but a bet on. You feel like there’s always a chance that gambling more could solve your problems.

So if you can’t afford something, you put a bet on. If you're lucky, you might win enough to cover that debt. But it doesn’t stop there, because you always think you could’ve won more. So you just keep going and going.

How did the addiction impact the rest of your life?

Trying to keep up with my own lies was the hardest part. I used to run to the front door to get the post so no one saw the bills. And I always had a short fuse because I was so stressed about my debts. That must’ve had an impact on everyone around me.

I owed payday loan companies just short of £26,000. All I could do was repay the interest, which was more than my entire salary each month.

Where were you borrowing money from?

Payday loan companies. At my lowest point I owed them just short of £26,000. All I could do was repay the interest, which was more than my entire salary each month.

Many of the payday loan companies have recently closed. I ended up going to Parliament to talk about my past to try and change the rules for payday lenders last year. Before, they could charge whatever they wanted in interest. So a £500 loan would soon be £3,000. There are limits now, so the most you can get charged in interest is 100% of the loan.

Did you tell lenders you were having problems paying back your debts?

I sent a letter to every single lender telling them that I had a gambling problem. I told them I was in a lot of debt and asked them to never lend to me again. I also asked if they’d freeze the interest and give me a chance to get my life back on track.

The responses were a mixed bag. Some wrote off the interest and told me they shouldn’t have lent to me in the first place. But others had no empathy.

I even wrote to the gambling operators to say please don’t ever let me bet again. But even though some of them agreed, I was fighting a losing battle. New sites were coming up all the time. At one point there were 10-20 new gambling sites a month. It’d only take me finding one new site for me to lose an entire wage.

I joined self-exclusion schemes to try and stop me from visiting gambling websites. I even took my photo into the bookmakers so they wouldn’t serve me.

Danny Cheetham

How did you turn things around?

The turning point was when my mum was in hospital with cancer. Once when I was visiting her, I realised I was just staring at my phone putting bets on. I thought, what am I doing? I should be talking to my mum.

So I started to find ways to put hurdles in place that’d make it harder to gamble.

I joined self-exclusion schemes to try and stop me from visiting gambling websites. I even took my photo into the bookmakers so they wouldn’t serve me.

I also use GamStop, which maintains your self-exclusions for you. It makes sure every new gambling operator gets added to the list, so people who've self-excluded can’t use them. It takes the stress out of it and the responsibility off your shoulders.

But things really started to change when I started using the gambling block with Monzo. I know my card will get rejected for any gambling transactions I try to make. I’ve also got a limit so I can only take out £20 a day in cash.

turn-off-gambling-block

It ends up being more of a deterrent for me. If there’s a big event on, like a football match, it’ll cross my mind to put a bet on. But now I know it isn’t worth even trying because my card will get declined.

If I really wanted to gamble, I know I could find ways around it. But it would take a lot of planning, and by that point the impulse would’ve passed.

Having a bank that understands the problem has been a relief. With Monzo, if anything untoward happens, you know there’s someone there to speak to, who’ll help and make you feel like there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s helped a few times when I’ve had a bad moment.

Having a bank that understands the problem has been a relief.

Danny Cheetham

How did you approach paying off the debt?

I used to try and pay things off randomly, as fast as I could, because I didn’t trust myself to have the money in my account.

But once I stopped gambling, I could sit back and think ok, which bills am I going to attack next?

How does being debt-free feel?

Being debt-free after more than a decade feels great! I know I can afford to do things like go on holiday. And I can do it with a smile because I know it’s my own money.

I don’t get anxious about payday anymore. And I can leave money in my account and know I won’t spend it straight away. I’ve even started saving! I have a Pot that’s like my rainy day fund.

I don’t get anxious about payday anymore. And I’ve even started saving! I have a Pot that’s like my rainy day fund.

What’s next?

The gambling and debt meant I missed out on things. Even simple ones like driving! I’ve never done a driving lesson or driven a car in my life. Because I was in so much debt, I couldn’t ever make it a priority. So I want to focus on that next.

The other one is everyone’s pipe dream, which is saving up to get my own place one day!

What's your advice for anyone struggling with a gambling problem?

Think about why you’re gambling. If it’s to get out of debt, think about whether you can do it for yourself without needing a win.

Don’t be afraid to open up to the people closest to you. The first weight off your shoulders is knowing that having a problem is nothing to be ashamed of.

And remember that gambling is designed to be addictive, you’re not fully to blame. But you can stop if you put a bit of thought into it. Try to put the right hurdles in place, and realise you can get where you need to be yourself, without that win.