Recently, while in London for a few days for work, I bought a copy of The Big Issue. This isn’t particularly unusual for me; I mentioned my love of The Big Issue’s work supporting the homeless months ago (plus the magazine itself is genuinely very good), and I try as best I can to always carry enough cash on me to buy a copy if I pass a seller on the street.

But this copy, I noticed, was different.

My magazine came wrapped in a small sleeve, telling me to ‘pay it forward’. As I looked into what this entailed, I was delighted by what I found and inspired by the innovation of the scheme. I knew I had to share it with everyone here too, because it’s truly brilliant.

The current problem

There are two main issues when it comes to the homeless and financial systems. The first is that we’ve been moving towards a cashless society for a while now. Cash use has halved in the past decade and is set to halve again in the next decade, with debit cards overtaking cash as the most popular payment method in 2017. However, eight million people still consider cash a necessity, and moving to a cashless society too quickly leaves many who are already on the margins of society at the risk of financial exclusion, including the elderly, the vulnerable, and the homeless. While The Big Issue has started to combat this in their area through the trialling of contactless card readers for vendors, there is still a larger issue at hand when it comes to homeless individuals.

If you’re homeless (whether you’re a rough sleeper or a part of the hidden homeless), you don’t usually have a fixed address. If you don’t have a fixed address, you can’t open a bank account. If you don’t have a bank account, there’s nowhere for those cashless payments to go. At the same time, it’s also harder to get a job, receive benefits, find housing or save money safely. This financial exclusion can lead to cycles of poverty that are hard to break, and dwindling access to cash (the only viable option for buying food and necessities) makes it even harder.

The Big Issue’s solution

The Pay It Forward scheme creates the world’s first resellable magazine, designed to help vendors earn more money and increase their financial inclusion. Thanks to the help of digital bank Monzo, these Big Issue magazines now come with individual scannable QR codes in the top corner of the cover. This means that readers can buy the magazine directly from a seller, read the entire thing, and then sell it on to friends, in an incredibly easy system:

  • Buy your magazine from a participating vendor, as usual
  • Find someone who would also enjoy reading the magazine
  • The person you’re selling to uses their phone to scan the QR code
  • This code takes you to a special Monzo web page where you make a secure payment of £2.50 (you don’t need an app or Monzo account to do this)
  • The original vendor receives £1.25, and The Big Issue gets the rest to continue their work
  • Repeat! The magazine can be sold on infinitely!

Pay It Forward was developed in collaboration with Monzo as part of their #NoBarriersToBanking campaign and was built during Monzo Time, a day every month where the product teams work on projects that aren’t on their roadmap. As part of the trial each Pay It Forward vendor was supported by Monzo and enabled to open bank accounts, as Monzo allows you to use another address, like a friend’s house or a shelter, to set up your account. This means they’re able to have bank accounts and debit cards when they may not have been able to before, which in turn allows them to safely pay for things, build up savings and receive cashless payments that they were previously excluded from. In this way, the Pay It Forward scheme works in perfect conjunction with the introduction of cashless payments for each vendor at their pitch too.

When it comes to the actual reselling itself, it’s incredibly easy. I’d never scanned a QR code before so decided to try out the system myself before writing about it. I have a secondhand iPhone, so I just had to open the camera app and tap the code to focus my camera on it, and it took me straight to a web page to fill in my details. It took about a minute from scanning to completed payment. Each QR code is specific to each vendor, meaning that when they’re scanned you see a verified ‘The Big Issue’ badge next to the vendor’s avatar, as well as a bio that tells you a little bit more about the vendor, and the opportunity to send them a personalised message.

Also, while the scheme is run through Monzo, you don’t need a Monzo account. The code takes you to a secure web page, where you fill in card details, meaning anyone can easily buy the magazine.

Aaron Dunn, 30, who sells The Big Issue in Covent Garden, said: “It is great because you get to earn extra money on top of the sales you make of the magazine. You never know how far it is going to go. One of my magazines has already been passed around over 20 times.”


As well as making it possible for resale customers to buy the magazine without cash, the model also gives vendors a greater reach, spreading The Big Issue’s message and important work even further. At the same time it cuts down on waste dramatically, as it allows countless people to read the same magazine (reuse), requires fewer new magazines to be produced even as sales go up (reduce) and then it can eventually be fully recycled when it has reached the end of a much more extensive lifespan (recycle). And, every step of the way, a Big Issue seller gets paid more than they would have before.

What it looks like when the magazine is re-sold to you. Hugh sells his resellable issues outside St. Pauls station in London, go buy one if you’re close by!

How you can get involved

For now, the project has just launched with a limited number of trials, 20 vendors around the UK are currently involved. The money from all resales goes straight into their Monzo accounts, allowing them to earn more money, accrue savings and enter the financial system, which is crucial to a transition out of homelessness.

You can find a map of participating vendors pitch locations here, to show your support for this scheme either go buy from these vendors if there’s one near you and then resell as many times as possible, or let The Big Issue know, by contacting them or tagging them on social media, that you’re behind the scheme and would love to see the vendors in your area signed up to it too. I think it’s great, for the price of a coffee you can help someone move out of vulnerable circumstances, plus all your friends can get involved even if they’re not able to encounter the seller themselves. You never know how far it can go, and you save so much waste in the process. Everyone wins!

So be sure to spread the word today, because this is a brilliant scheme that deserves our full support.