When part-time cleaner Jackie Alderson saw the household bills mounting up she decided to pawn some of her jewellery.
Among the valuable items that secured the loan with Albemarle and Bond was a locket, inside which were pictures of her late parents.
Now, having saved up the £1,000 needed to return the 10 rings and two necklaces, the 57-year-old is wondering how she will ever see her treasured belongings again.
The pawnbroker’s branch in Southend-on-Sea is one of more than 100 that have shut their doors owing to the company’s significant financial losses. Its latest set of accounts show that it lost £3.3m last year, and £1.6m the year before.
‘You think they are secure’
“It made me cry,” said Mrs Alderson, a mother-of-five and grandmother. “My parents have died and a couple of the items were from my mum., including the locket with my parents’ photos in. “You think they are secure and I’ve been saving up to get them out.”
Pawnbrokers allow customers to offer something valuable as security for a loan, or buy items such as jewellery and antiques. They lend money quickly, but usually at a worse rate than banks.
Speedloan Finance, the owner of Albemarle and Bond, has tried to reassure customers such as Mrs Alderson that her belongings are safe and held in a pawnbroking centre.
Customers have been sent letters telling them about the status of their items and how they can redeem them.
But a number of customers, like Mrs Alderson, are in the habit of redeeming belongings at their local branch with cash. They are uneasy about doing so through the post or with a bank transfer.
That unease is made worse because they are unable to get through to the company’s helpline to discuss the situation or make a payment.
Mrs Alderson said she had tried calling at all hours, well over 60 times in total, but the line was constantly engaged. Callers often get an busy signal or a recorded message telling them the company is receiving a large number of calls, but their items are safe. Emails receive an automated response.
BBC News has not received any reply from the company to explain the lack of responses. Late on Friday, in a statement, it said it was “exploring options available to it”.
These included finding a buyer for some or all of the stores. Staff were entering a period of consultation or being offered voluntary redundancy.
The company’s own trade body, the National Pawnbrokers Association (NPA), has criticised the company’s failure to answer calls to the helpline, and told management to rectify the situation urgently.
The financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, has told the company to deal with the situation in an orderly way with as little disruption as possible to customers.
The Albemarle and Bond website said: “If your items are expired or due to expire, please note we will not take any action with your items until we speak to you.”
The company’s helpline is on 01865 798114, or customers can send an email to email@example.com.
If customers are not happy with the response from the company, they can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service to complain on 0800 023 4567, or the FCA customer helpline on 0800 111 6768.
How does pawnbroking work?
- Customer “pledges” an item, such as a gold ring for a set period of time, usually six months
- Pawnbroker gives 50% to 60% of the item’s value as a cash loan
- Customer pays 7% to 8% interest every month
- An item can be redeemed during the loan period by paying back the original loan and any interest up to that point
- If the customer cannot repay the loan at the end of the deal the pawnbroker sells the item and returns any surplus to the customer