When Bushra’s* television packed up during lockdown, she thought she’d better replace it straight away. It was hard enough not to be able to meet her friends or go to her weekly choir practice without foregoing her favourite television programmes as well. But more than that, providing childcare support for her son and daughter-in-law, both key-workers, she knew there were daily programmes to supplement the national curriculum, and she wanted to make sure her grandchildren didn’t miss out with their home-schooling while she was looking after them.
Unable to go into a showroom, she managed to find what she thought was a reasonable deal with an online retailer. When she came to check out though, she found the added delivery costs were more than she was expecting so she abandoned her purchase. She bought a television elsewhere and thought no more of it until, a couple of months later, she was horrified when she started receiving threatening letters demanding repayment of a debt she didn’t know she had. She had inadvertently entered into a credit agreement with the first online store, commonly known as ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ (BNPL), and having known nothing about it and consequently not made any payments, the debt was growing with added late penalty fees.
“I was terrified.” said Bushra, “The debt was now more than I could comfortably manage and I couldn’t sleep, worried that bailiffs were going to turn up at my door”.
And Bushra isn’t alone
Research by Citizens Advice has found that shoppers have been charged some £39 million in late fees in the past twelve months alone, and many don’t even realise they have entered into a credit agreement. Many retail websites facilitating these BNPL plans, don’t warn customers of the risks – such as being pursued by debt collection agencies if they don’t make repayments – and of those that do, many hide the details in the small print. Citizens Advice feel it is far too easy for people to enter into these payment plans without the usual credit checks, and for many it may be the start of a slide into serious debt. Furthermore, because this market is relatively new and not yet regulated, some of the usual means of redress, such as the Financial Ombudsman are not yet available.
However, Citizens Advice are not only monitoring the situation, we can offer practical help too
Bushra’s neighbour, seeing her friend so worried, suggested she call Citizens Advice Adviceline to see what could be done. Bushra was referred to the Citizens Advice dedicated Consumer Helpline where advisers helped her compose a letter detailing why she believed she had been mis-sold credit. “It was such a relief.” Bushra explained. “I felt there was somebody fighting my corner.”
Citizen Advice can offer help with all manner of consumer issues, from faulty goods to shoddy building work, so if you’re not sure of your rights or how to make a complaint, contact us and let us help you sort it out.
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*Name changed for reasons of confidentiality.