As the Christmas shopping season kicks into high gear, consumers buying gift cards and vouchers have been warned to use them up early to avoid falling victim to overly restrictive terms and conditions.
The gift voucher business is worth more than €300 million in Ireland each year and while many vouchers will be redeemed, complex rules over their lifespan – some as short as six months – will see a number of shoppers losing out.
Currently, stores that issue vouchers and gift cards are entitled to set down an expiry date on the voucher and can also deduct amounts from their value for every month over the use-by date.
The deduction can be as high as €3 a month after the expiry date.
The lasting period can typically be found buried in the small print on the reverse of a card, meaning buyers and recipients are rarely aware of them.
Last week, Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy introduced a new Bill before the Dáil which would tilt the balance in favour of consumers by banning many of the charges associated with gift vouchers.
The Social Democrats Consumer Rights (Gift Vouchers) Bill 2017 aims to limit expiry dates on gift vouchers to five years. It also promises to ban charges for repayment of credit balances to gift vouchers and to prevent companies applying charges to unused or inactive balances.
“The whole area of gift vouchers and gift cards is largely unregulated in Ireland with everything stacked against the consumer,” said Ms Murphy.
“Retailers are free to put any expiry period on gift vouchers with many opting for just 12 months. This amounts to an unfair ‘use it or lose it policy’ and is just not acceptable. These (vouchers) are not gifts from the retailer – they are actually money, paid for by customers” she added.
One of the worst offenders is the ‘One4All’ gift card which although can be spent in 8,000 outlets -including Penneys and Boots – will penalise shoppers with a monthly inactive balance charge of €1.45 after the card has been issued for 12 months.