Which? calls for stronger BNPL safeguards

Which? is calling for stronger safeguards to stop online shoppers from choosing Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) to pay for products without knowing the risks.

Research from the firm, which it said surveyed 30 typical BNPL users, found many people do not think that they are taking on debt when using BNPL services.

Which? said many of the BNPL users it interviewed did not think of BNPL schemes as a form of credit, claiming this could mean they could unwittingly be exposing themselves to serious risks of missing repayments, such as late fees, marked credit reports, or referral to a debt collector.

The research also found low engagement with BNPL providers’ terms and conditions and said most BNPL users said they either skimmed the T&Cs or simply ticked a box to say they had read them in full.

As a result, some users had a limited understanding of the consequences of missing payments according to the report, and of the safeguards and checks carried out by BNPL providers.

Some participants were also not aware there were late payment fees at all according to the research.

In addition, Which? said its previous research found people are more likely to be using BNPL at stressful and challenging times in their lives.

Missing a credit repayment or bill or experiencing a major life event - such as getting married, having a baby, moving home, or being made redundant - increases the odds of using BNPL by around a third according to Which?, at 38 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.

Which? said therefore they are calling for stronger safeguards to protect consumers, including steps in the checkout process to ensure people understand they are borrowing money when using BNPL, and warnings about the risks of using the schemes.

Which? said key information, such as payment terms, late fees and the potential consequences of missed payments, should be communicated at the point of transaction to help consumers make informed choices and that BNPL providers should proactively make their key terms and conditions more accessible, rather than waiting for regulation.

The news comes as the Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) continues to grow in the UK; more than a quarter of UK shoppers are now regularly using it according to a study from credit reference agency Equifax.

One in ten - 10 per cent - of BNPL users have been chased by debt collectors according to research by Citizens Advice released in September.

“BNPL schemes can offer speed and convenience at the checkout, but our research shows that many users do not realise they are taking on debt or consider the prospect of missing payments,” said Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?. “That is why there must be stronger safeguards to protect consumers and warn about the risks of using the schemes.

“Payment terms, late fees and the potential consequences of missed payments should be communicated at the point of transaction.”

He added: “There must also be no further delay to plans for BNPL regulation, which should include much greater marketing transparency, information about the risks of missed payments and credit checks before consumers are cleared to use BNPL providers.”

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