Pawning possessions to survive: The last resort for families facing rising costs

Report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Hewitt, words written by ITV News trainee Sarika Gandhi

We spent a day in Keeley Ann’s Pawnbrokers in Birmingham, a family business, and the door kept flying open.

We saw customer after customer coming into exchange, pawn, or sell their items.

From engagement rings, and gold bracelets, to TVs and game consoles, the vast majority had one thing in common, they were there because someone needed the money to get by and survive.

"I can go to bed without food, but my kids will never go to bed without food in their stomachs," said the day’s first customer, Stephanie.

‘I want a ten just to top up the electric’: Stephanie says she just wants £10 for her headphones

Bubbly, bold, and with a beaming smile - hiding the harsh reality she had just desperately searched her house for something to pawn.

Walking up to the counter, and with her daughter’s headphones in hand, she was after £10 to top-up her electricity.

"I’d rather not but if this is the closest option to surviving, whatever in my house, could be a telly, it could be whatever, I’m going to bring it here and get money and put food on my kid's table."

It wasn’t the first time Stephanie had pawned her children’s items; she already had her son’s music mixer in there too.

When asked whether it upsets her or the children to pawn their items, she stoically replied, "I will do what I can to survive, and they know that."

This story wasn’t uncommon, many customers didn’t want to be filmed but were happy to speak with us.

"It’s a necessary evil" was how one customer described having to pawn items to get by, after paying nearly £90 in interest to keep her sentimental jewellery in the pawnshop’s possession which included her great-grandmother’s heirloom and daughter’s 21st birthday gift.

‘We have seen a vast change in the people coming in’

"With the cost of living going up, it’s a necessary evil, you’ve got to do it’…you got to eat haven’t you and keep warm."

During our time in the shop, it was clear how easy the transaction is with the pawnbrokers.

You could sell your item completely and get cash in hand straight away.

You could pawn your prized jewellery, in return getting some money for it and a chance to get it back in seven months, but it comes with a hefty price of 10% interest a month and a £1 ticket price.

To get the item back, you need to repay the money, and the interest incurred during the weeks spent there.

To keep it in the shop's possessions, you’ll need to pay £71 to renew the ticket for a further seven months.

For electronics, the interest is 25% per month. It would come as no surprise that more people were pawning or bringing items in, than managing to buy them back.

Are Pawnbrokers profiting out of the cost-of-living crisis?

Rhian, who works at the shop believes they provide a lifeline and vital service in helping people with money problems and those who are unable to access credit.

"We are a business, so we do make money, but we are cheaper than most banks," she said.

Although, the National Pawnbrokers Association has seen a decline in pawnshops, with just 865 operating last year, compared to over 2,000 back in 2014.

Staff at the pawnshop Keeley Anns in Birmingham, say demand is growing, and they are seeing more and more people pawning items to pay for their bills.

The customer of the pawnshop is changing too. Rhian told us there is a rise in first-time users due to the rising costs facing people, such as "businesses or homeowners who are seeing the price rises and are struggling this way."

Christmas is a particularly hard time - Rhian explained how parents are often pawning items in front of their children to make sure they can pay household bills, with the hopes that they could give their children gifts at some point after the festive season.

She believes this Christmas will be the worst they’ve seen since the business started.

The shop got quieter as it got darker outside, and slowly the shutters came down.

From speaking to those who use the pawnshop and those who work in it, no-one chooses to pawn their items, they simply have no other choice.

Outside the shopfront was a world no-one wished they knew.

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