Albemarle and Bond left customers "terrified" this week when the pawnbroker unexpectedly shut the doors of many Merseyside branches.

One of those contacting us was Lorraine Mccouid from Seaforth, who had handed in her platinum diamond cluster rings to the shop three weeks ago, which are worth thousands of pounds.

A letter from the pawnbroker sent to her home told her to call a number for help.

She said: "I tried to ring the number all day yesterday and 12 times again this morning but it just says these lines are closed.

"I've emailed them as well but I just got an automated response."

The ECHO called the number sent to customers multiple times without getting through to anyone - although not as many times as the 46 unsuccessful attempts made by one desperate woman.

So we decided to do some digging around Albemarle and Bond and this is what we discovered, including some useful contact numbers.

The pawnbroker has been struggling financially for years

Albemarle and Bond shut a number of its branches in Liverpool and across the country this week, including stores in Belle Vale , Norris Green , Bootle Strand and Huyton.

But the company has been struggling financially for a number of years.

In 2014, it went into administration, but was rescued by investors.

 

It was then bought by the company Speedloan Finance, which kept the trading name.

The latest company accounts from Speedloan Finance - which also owns the jeweller and pawnbroker Herbert Brown - show that in 2018 the parent company made a £3.4m loss before tax, compared to a £1.9m loss the year before.

At time of writing, it is not clear what the future of the pawnbroker is.

Treatment of customers 'below the standards expected'

The National Pawnbrokers Association have sent the ECHO a statement regarding what has happened, along with some advice for those affected.

The association say the company's decision to "downscale UK operations" and close a number of stores is a "strategic matter."

But the spokesperson went onto say that they were concerned "that the communication of their actions to their customers falls below the standards expected of its members".

They added: "In particular we are most unhappy with the fact that customers cannot get through to the helpline.

"We have demanded that the management of the company resolve this as a matter of urgency and the Association will do everything in its power to ensure that customers rights are protected and that they are treated fairly and transparently."

The National Pawnbrokers Association had some reassuring news for customers, though, as it seems their missing items are safe.

 

The spokesperson said: "We have no reason to believe that the customers pledges are at risk and have been assured that they are being safely held at a central location."

The National Pawnbrokers Association also provided a number of contact details. They said: "Customers can contact the company on 01865 798114 which is a dedicated hotline.

"If customers are not happy with the response from the company, they can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service to complain on 020 7964 1001 or the FCA customer helpline on 0800 111 6768."

 

We rang the Financial Ombudsman

The ECHO followed this advice and rang the Financial Ombudsman. But despite calling multiple times, we received no response.

The phone line continued to make a strange dial tone and eventually rang off without a voice mail service.

Some customers, however, did get through - and they shared with us what they learned.

Peter Woods, from Belle Vale, is one of many people who have been affected by the pawnbrokers sudden closure.

The 48-year-old says he is worried about what is going on, after he left £4,000 worth of jewellery at the Belle Vale store which his nan left to him when she passed away.

 

Peter says he only handed the jewellery into the store for a few weeks to pay towards his nan's funeral costs and he was going back there this week to retrieve the items, but he has now been left unable to do so.

After ringing the company continuously, Peter says, he rang the Financial Ombudsman who told him the company had ceased trading in 2017.

Peter said: "I've been in touch with the Financial Ombudsman and they told me this company ceased trading in 2017.

Many people found family jewellery had been spirited away. Generic image.

"I said how can you explain that when this company has been trading for two years and they said they don't keep a watch on everyone.

"I've rang the number the company gave out and it just says 'number failed.'

"I've even tried other numbers in London but they won't answer the phone either it just says the number has failed. I'm not letting this go, no way.

"To me it is theft. I'm going to the police and I want them to look into it, they've took everything from the shop and no one is answering the phone."

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Trying the company on a different number

Another man did manage to get through to the company and wanted to share the number with the ECHO readers.

He said if customers phone 01865725541, they should get through on this number despite a bit of a wait.

According to the man, who does not want to be named, the pawnbrokers has closed stores in London as well.

Another woman also claims that she got through to staff over the phone, after the closure of the Huyton store left her "shaking with worry".

On speaking to a staff member yesterday, the woman says she was told: '"Don't worry they're very busy. Your items are safe."

 

However, despite the phone call, the woman says she is none the wiser as to how to get her rings back and is "really upset" by it all.

Danny Jones, from Belle Vale, also managed to reach a member of staff via a landline number.

He said: "I got through to a member of staff on the landline and I recognised her voice.

"I said to her 'what's going on love?' and she said 'I don't know what's happening - they have been in and emptied the shop and told me to get the rest of my stuff and that I've not got a job anymore after 20 years of working here."

'I have tried to call every branch in the country'

Other customers, though, have hit a brick wall. A customer named Joan told the ECHO on Thursday she had been trying to get hold of the company since she was informed that the Kirkby store was closing down this morning through a letter in the post.

She said: "I've rang every single store in Liverpool and in other parts of the country and no one is answering."

What Albemarle and Bond says about the closure

The ECHO has approached Albemarle and Bond for comment but received no response.

However, the company did provide an automated list of questions and answers for customers.

My local store is closed - where are my items?

Albemarle and Bond says the items have been moved to their Pawnbroking Centre for the duration of the agreement.

Why have I not had notification of the change?

The company says a letter has been generated and posted to the registered address of each affected customer, and apologises if there have been delays.

If you have changed your address since pledging your items, contact the Albemarle and Bond offices on 01865 798114 (Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm) or you can email us on info@albemarlebond.com.

Why didn't you advise me of the store closure before it happened?

Albemarle and Bond says: "Unfortunately, we were unable to contact all customers prior to the closure date. We apologise for any inconvenience this has caused."

My pledge has expired or is due to expiry, what will happen to them?

The company says it will take no action with items until it has spoken to the original owners.

What Repayment options do I have?

Albemarle and Bond says: "You can redeem or make a part payment towards your pledge at any time during the length of your Pawnbroking Agreement. Please call us on 01865 798114 to discuss your repayment options. The line is open Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm or email us on info@albemarlebond.com.

"You can make a payment to us by: Debit Card, over the phone, Bank Transfer, By visiting a Natwest bank and making a cash payment.

"Agreed payments by bank transfer should be deposited to the following bank account:

"Account Name: Natwest

"Sort Code: 60-00-01

The ECHO has approached Speedloan Finance for comment.

Have you been affected by this story? Email news@liverpool.com or message us on Facebook at Liverpool Echo News , or on Twitter @LivEchoNews .