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‘I am borrowing to live’: pawnbrokers enjoy golden era as UK hits hard times | UK cost of living crisis

A sturdy chain and slender cross, both made of gold, are placed on the desk in a small plastic bag. Its owner is pondering whether to pawn or sell her grandmother’s necklace and mother’s pendant to raise £400 in cash to pay off debts and fund her daughter’s birthday celebrations. She has never used a pawnbroker before, but her finances are under increasing pressure.

“Every month I have got nothing to live on,” says the client, who declined to be identified, as she fights back tears. “I’ve been sitting around the house planning things I can sell. I’m out of the house for nine or 10 hours a day five days a week and I’m still skint five days after I get paid.”

The customer is one of many to cross the threshold on a typical day at Pickwick in Ashford, Kent, part of a chain of eight pawnbrokers – an industry that is experiencing a boom as customers struggle for cash to pay rising bills.

The company’s profits dived during the pandemic when it lost at least a third of its loan book, as clients with little opportunity to spend paid off their debts. Now business is bouncing back – up 20% since January to almost 60% above pre-Covid levels. “I have not really seen this pace of growth before. I think we are in new territory,” says Nathan Finch, Pickwick’s managing director.

Nathan Finch with a customer at Pickwick in Ashford
Nathan Finch with a customer at Pickwick in Ashford. ‘If we have to sell the items, it’s a failed loan.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

“I think people are arming up in respect of their finances. Pawnbroking customers are particularly savvy and are often smoothing their cashflow and making sure they have [what they need for] a bill coming up.”

Finch expects a further uplift this year

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