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Concern mounts over reliance on Buy Now, Pay Later for food

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People are turning to unregulated Buy Now, Pay Later loans to cover essentials such as food and toiletries, a charity has warned.

Interest-free BNPL schemes are a form of credit and give customers the opportunity to buy something now and pay for it later.

One in 12 people in the last six months turned to Buy Now, Pay Later schemes to cover basic costs, such as food and toiletries.

But some people are reliant on the deferred payment scheme more than others, Citizens Advice warned.

The charity said young people, those already in debt and those claiming Universal Credit are at least twice as likely to have used BNPL for essentials than the general population.

Typically, BNPL has been advertised at checkouts as an easy way of splitting or delaying payments on fashion items and electronics. But if the debt isn’t cleared, interest and other charges add up.

The charity said it is particularly worried about the rise of unregulated firms offering BNPL for food shopping.

In one case it saw, a pensioner who works a few hours a week to top-up her income, used BNPL for a £40 food shop as she didn’t have enough money for essentials that month.

Despite struggling to pay, the provider has “bombarded” her with offers to borrow hundreds of pounds more.

She said: “It was either use BNPL or starve, so I used it. I sort of knew I would struggle to make the repayments but I did not have any other way of getting food. I bought canned food as they are non-perishable and would last me longer.

“I have been struggling to repay the money. They constantly harass me, calling me for payments. It’s really stressful as if I could afford to pay it back straight away, I would.

“This company also sends me texts and emails offering £100 credit and even £500. It makes no sense as I can’t even manage to repay £40, how would I repay £100 or even £500?”

Buy Now, Pay Later is ‘invisible’

Gillian Percival, a benefits caseworker at Citizens Advice, said: “Buy Now, Pay Later is a double-edged sword. It can be useful if you understand what you’re getting into, but if you’re using it out of desperation you probably have no way to repay.

“We try to help people with foodbank and fuel vouchers, but some people are embarrassed to ask for help if they’re struggling. If they use Buy Now Pay Later they’re invisible. They don’t need to speak to anybody, with a few clicks they can borrow instead.”

Urgent regulation needed

Following the sector’s growth, the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority said the payment services will come under its scope, and a review also highlighted the potential risk of consumer detriment in using this option.

Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The fact that people are turning to Buy Now, Pay Later for their groceries really hammers home the urgent need for industry regulation.

“As living costs spiral, we fear more people in desperate situations will see this unregulated form of credit as the answer.

“The government must keep pace with these firms and ensure consumers are protected.”

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