Profits at the UK’s biggest pawnbroker, H&T, slumped by 22% in 2020 as the pandemic saw fewer customers needing to sell their assets, the company said.

With large swathes of the economy shuttered, bosses said the demand for cash fell as Covid-19 restrictions in the hospitality and travel sectors saw households becoming savers rather than spenders.

An H&T pawnbrokers shop
H&T said profits slumped during the Covid-19 pandemic (Rui Vieira/PA)

H&T added that its pledge book – the value of goods pawned by customers – reduced and people with savings bought back their valuables.

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The company also took a knock to profits by offering payment holidays and deferrals to customers who might be struggling financially.

Despite its stores remaining open as an “essential” retailer, there was also limited demand for services – although strong gold prices helped offset some of the falls.

As a result of the pandemic and unexpected set of circumstances, pre-tax profits fell 22.4% to £15.6 million in the 12 months to the end of 2020.

The pledge book fell 33.1% to £48.3 million and the company’s personal loan book dropped 64.5% to just £5.9 million. Retail sales fell 28.2% to £11.3 million.

But strong gold prices helped its gold-buying gross profits increase 19.3% to £6.8 million.

Economists at the Government’s independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predict households have saved £180 billion due to so many opportunities and services to spend cash on being closed or restricted because of Covid-19.

And with the furlough scheme aimed at reducing unemployment, the typical push towards high street lenders and pawnbrokers during recessions has not yet materialised.

Chairman Peter McNamara said: “The demand for small-sum, short-term cash loans has been subdued over the past 12 months and this is likely to continue for some time.”

He added: “The start of 2021 has brought ongoing challenges with the continuation of further national restrictions across the UK.

“While H&T has been able to keep its stores open, as its financial services are classified as essential by the Government, business activities have been impacted by reduced high street footfall and subdued demand for its services.

“The group has been offering retail jewellery only via its e-commerce platforms since early January 2021, and this has impacted sales levels significantly during the first quarter of the year.”