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Britain sets out legislation to regulate buy-now-pay-later credit

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Britain on Tuesday will set out draft legislation to regulate “buy now pay later” credit, saying the sector posed potential harm to consumers without thorough affordability checks.

BNPL companies are largely unregulated and typically offer on-the-spot interest-free short-term loans that spread payments for retail goods like clothing.

The sector nearly quadrupled during the pandemic in 2020 to 2.7 billion pounds ($3.28 billion).

With Britain facing a cost of living crisis, consumer groups worry cash-strapped people are getting into debt by using BNPL to buy food or pay energy bills.

The finance ministry said it will launch a public consultation on Tuesday on legislation to regulate BNPL, giving the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) powers to authorise operators and their activities.

“People should be able to access affordable credit, but with clear protections in place,” financial services minister Andrew Griffith said in a statement from the finance ministry.

BNPL agreements currently rely on minimal credit checks, with lenders not required to give key information to borrowers, and some people may end up borrowing more than they can afford to repay, the ministry said.

The ministry said consumers will be given the new right to take complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Last February, the FCA told BNPL operators Clearpay, Klarna, Laybuy and Openpay to change their contracts after identifying potential harm to customers. It had to use consumer rights law pending the new legislation the ministry was announcing on Monday.

Once the FCA has been given its new powers, it will consult on detailed rules for the sector, such as mandatory affordability checks, licensing of operators, and fair marketing.

Jane Goodland, trustee of the Centre For Financial Capability, a financial education charity, said people of all ages were turning to BNPL as they struggled to meet payments due to rising inflation, showing the need for urgent regulation.

($1 = 0.8243 pounds)

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