It is a pleasure to speak in this debate in support of new clause 7, which is in the name of Stella Creasy, who I gather will speak shortly. It is absolutely vital that we accelerate regulation of this newly emerging sector before we see the sort of problems that emerged in the rent-to-own sector in recent years.
I am glad to hear that the Government, the FCA and the sector recognise that regulation is necessary, but I also note that there is little consensus over what that regulation should consist of, nor what legislative vehicle it could be contained within. I further note that support from the sector is conditional on it being, in its view, in consumers’ interest. I am not sure it should be the judge of what is in consumers’ interest.
Clearly, it is far better for people who can afford to pay just once to do so, but I recognise that there is a legitimate market for a well-regulated “buy now, pay later” sector. However, it has to ensure that consumers are not taken advantage of. The sector likes to point out that the fastest rate of growth is in the over-40 market, thereby suggesting that its users are among the more financially responsible, but younger customers represent the majority of those missing payments and putting themselves at risk by having recourse to risky forms of lending. As innovative as “buy now, pay later” might be, that innovation is driven by competition—by a desire for market capture by the major players. So while one proposes a voluntary code of conduct, another chooses not to sign up to it. That makes me worried as to the willingness of the sector to co-operate with the regulators. What we do not want to see is regulatory capture by these major players.
I want to ensure that those who miss their payments are unable to make further purchases with not only one provider, but all providers of BNPL. If Klarna prevents a further purchase by a consumer because they have already missed a payment, they should not be able automatically to switch to Laybuy, Clearpay or one of the other providers. Moreover, these providers should not be a default purchasing option on a website when a consumer seeks to make a purchase; this is a clear example of the growing lockdown phenomenon of ‘emotional e-commerce’. I recognise that this Bill is not perhaps the right vehicle to manage how the websites are laid out, but this is a clear driver in the growing use of this form of payment.
I have already seen the problem debt my constituents have accrued in the rent-to-own sector, and those firms also sought to portray themselves as acting responsibly to protect consumer interests. I do not want to see those same constituents using BNPL schemes and getting into a similar situation, with a similar rhetoric from those providers. Regulation is now needed sooner rather than later, before these commercial models become ever more entrenched. With every week that passes, the influence of BNPL increases, the more we see the adverts on the TV and the more we see it appearing when we make online purchases. The lack of consumer protection in this regard puts more of those purchasing online at risk.
I very much welcome what the Minister has had to say to me, both in the House and privately. I look forward to seeing the Woolard review and hearing the next steps that will be taken to make practical progress on this very pressing matter.