After despairing at the predatory tactics of shopping trucks, the Salvation Army has taken matters into its own hands.

The charity today launched its own "ethical" shopping truck, which will sell food, clothes and other items and make small loans without the huge interest rates charged by some rogue lenders.

Known as The Good Shop, the truck will not actually carry physical goods but will allow people to buy essential household items through online shopping on board.

Interest-free loans of up to $1000 will be available through a deal with BNZ bank, and people wanting to buy larger items will be able to get loans of up to $5000 at an interest rate of around 7 per cent.


Ronji Tanielu, from the Salvation Army's policy and Parliamentary unit, said the initiative was created in response to the hundreds of people who had found themselves in "mountains of debt" because of unscrupulous contracts and predatory lending.

"We were just tired of seeing that, and wondered how we could disrupt a business model that preys on vulnerable people".

The online shopping process would ensure people's choices were not impulsive, he said: "They won't be able to just grab a Starter or Nike jacket".

In one case, his organisation had found that one of the mobile shopping trucks had set up outside a mental health clinic and had been selling goods to people who could not fully understand what they were getting in to.

Tanielu said unethical lending was usually closely tied to poverty or other social problems, and The Good Shop will also help refer people to social services and provide financial advice.

The fringe lending sector has undergone two rounds of reforms in the last four years, but the Salvation Army says it is still a relatively unregulated industry. It was disappointed the latest reforms did not include caps on interest rates and fees.

"We knew we needed to start reform now," said The Good Shop project manager Jodi Hoare.

"Every day we see people trapped in a cycle of debt by these loans, with no other options open to them and often with limited economic understanding."

In the worst cases, mobile traders have charged interest rates of up to 800 per cent.

They typically target poorer areas - often a day or two before welfare payments come in because they know pantries will be empty - and charge exorbitant prices or loan money with high interest on the repayments.

In its State of the Nation report published last week, the Salvation Army said lending by non-bank institutions grew by nearly 10 per cent in inflation-adjusted terms to $4.5 billion.

It said earlier reforms of the sector by the National-led Government in 2014 did not go far enough. The changes extended protections against loan sharks, but that was not matched by monitoring or enforcement.

A Commerce Commission investigation in 2014 found 31 out of 32 mobile traders did not meet one or more legal obligations.