Family violence, drink driving, health problems, broken relationships, debt and gambling could increase if buy now, pay later schemes are used to buy liquor, some believe.

But those offering the schemes say the onus is on the buyer to manage their purchases and only buy what they can afford.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had been seeking feedback on the relative benefits and costs of buy now, pay later schemes. Consultation closed on December 16.

Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Nicki Jackson submitted a 15-page document to the Ministry, detailing why it believes alcohol purchases should be excluded from buy now, pay later schemes in New Zealand.

Currently, companies like Afterpay and Zip offer buy now, pay later for alcohol purchases. LayBuy lists alcohol as an unsupported product on moral grounds.

Afterpay and Zip do not currently work with supermarkets that sell alcohol or chain alcohol stores.

Jackson’s document said while Healthwatch was aware of a few bottle stores currently offering buy now, pay later, “there is significant potential for this to change” due to the growth in online alcohol retailers seeking to provide “essential” alcohol purchases during lockdowns.

Alcohol Healthwatch believed buy now, pay later created perceptions of lower cost.

“The majority (55 per cent) of New Zealand drinkers purchase their alcohol when sold on promotion.”

Alcohol Action NZ chairman and Mount Maunganui GP Tony Farrell said evidence around alcohol harm indicated the combination of increased accessibility, low prices and advertising was causing a public health crisis in New Zealand.

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesperson said the current consultation was “focused on understanding how BNPL [buy now, pay later] could trigger financial hardship for consumers”.

“Responses to this consultation that have been received so far indicate that some BNPL providers operate in alcohol stores, while others do not.”

Auckland’s Ebrewstore owner Peter Morgan introduced Afterpay and Zip into his business two months ago and sales had since increased.

When asked if the scheme could be damaging, Morgan said it was the buyer’s responsibility to manage their purchases.

“It’s always been if you can’t afford it, don’t use it, that’s my opinion. The decision to use it purely rests with the person making that decision.”

However, Morgan noticed new customers who previously couldn’t afford its products were now purchasing them.

They’re people who “wanted to start their own brew but there was actually a little bit of money that was involved in it so they’ve never really addressed it. Now I think Afterpay has actually allowed them to get into it without breaking the bank”.

When asked if he would encourage bottle stores to use buy now pay later, he said: “I think it comes back to, once again, the decision of the person buying. All we’re doing is providing an extra service that people can take up”.

NZ Alcohol Beverages Council executive director Bridget MacDonald said the majority of New Zealanders drank moderately and sensibly.

“Kiwis are actually consuming around 25 per cent less alcohol than in the 70s and 80s.

“Around nine out of 10 Kiwis (87 per cent) say adults should be able to enjoy alcohol as part of social occasions, including 76 per cent of non-drinkers.

“The new buy now, pay later payment systems are typically designed with low limits so that consumers do not run up large debts.”

An Afterpay spokesperson said the maximum amount a customer could reach on Afterpay was $2,000.

“Consumers have been using credit cards (that charge around 20 per cent interest) to purchase alcohol for decades. Afterpay, with its strong in-built safeguards, is a much safer way for consumers to make their purchases.”

Zip NZ country manager Todd Wackrow said: “Zip does not work with alcohol outlets, nor do we work with supermarkets where alcohol is available for sale.

“Zip does, however, work with a couple of specialist gift basket retailers, which do have some gift baskets where alcohol features as part of a wider product mix.”

Te Arawa iwi justice representative Billy Macfarlane said if alcohol as a gateway drug became more accessible it could, in his opinion, lead to more drugs, gambling and abuse.

With the scheme “they don’t have to use the money on the alcohol now they can save that and they can go by a bag instead”.

He said money governed how much you can drink.

“If you went to the bottle store and you only had $30 on you, you can only buy $30 worth of alcohol. If you got a buy now pay later scheme you can just buy more alcohol and you can get yourself in a worse state.”

While Macfarlane was unfamiliar with the schemes, his 13-year-old son knew of them: “All he’s saying to me is ‘free alcohol’, that’s how these kids are going to think.

“If you’re not the person who’s getting the money from this scheme, tell me what good can come from this?”

Rotorua Budget Advisory Service manager Pakanui Tuhura said buy now, pay later worked if people could repay within the timeframe.

However, if people “are continually repaying their debts before they have earned their income” then people may not have enough funds “for accommodation, food, power or other more conventional debts”.

“The effect will be people not repaying the BNPL on time and therefore being stung with penalties and/or interest, or worse not being able to pay more important costs.”

Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services executive director Tommy Wilson said, in his opinion, “we will have a generation of juice junkies on our doorstop if not there already. The number one drug by far that’s causing us the most grief is not P [methamphetamine], it’s alcohol.”

Salvation Army head of social services Lynette Hudson was surprised that buy now, pay later was available for alcohol purchases.

“We’ve seen various governments over the years never have an appetite to do anything, so alcohol harm just ticks away in the community and we tolerate it.”

She said, in her view, increasing availability with buy now, pay later could increase family violence, drink driving, health consequences, broken relationships, debt and gambling.

“We need to remind our government or our local bodies, our district councils, that they do have authority, they do have liberty to minimise harm in their communities.”

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