Monday 25 September 2017

Consumers warned: If you get a gift card for Christmas use it quickly or lose out

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Shoppers buying gift cards and vouchers in the run-up to Christmas have been warned they have few consumer protections.

Some vouchers and gift cards expire after just six months, with amounts being deducted 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.

Shoppers buying vouchers and those using them in the post-Christmas sales were warned to make themselves aware of the terms and conditions of purchasing and using them.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said a Dáil reply he received made it clear vouchers would remain unregulated again over the Christmas period.

He said the Government had broken a promise it made to regulate vouchers and gift cards, by enacting new consumer protection legislation.

The period of time vouchers remain valid can vary, and as a result people are left at a loss and feeling disappointed when they go to redeem them, Mr McGrath said.

He said it was evident from a parliamentary reply he got from Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor that the use of gift vouchers and cards would remain unregulated over Christmas.

“We have been calling for regulation in this area for some time. Consumers need to have their rights protected. Too often, we hear stories of people who have lost out on using their vouchers because of obscure terms and conditions,” he said.

Chief executive of the Consumers’ Association lobby group Dermott Jewell warned shoppers not to delay spending their vouchers and gift cards.

“The key is to use them rather than put them away. If you do put them away set a reminder on your phone to tell you to use them before they expire. Some expire in as little as six months,” he said.

Mr Jewell said that a monthly deduction could wipe out a €20 voucher very quickly if it had hit its use-by date.

Currently stores, shopping centres and other issuers of vouchers and gift cards are entitled to stipulate an expiry date on the voucher and also within their rights to charge maintenance fees, he said.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said in her Dáil reply that draft legislation was published in May 2015, called the Consumer Rights Bill.

When the bill was published businesses raised concerns about an outright ban on expiry dates.

She said greater protections for consumers buying gift cards and vouchers were due to be enacted at European level and she had to wait for European Union agreement before she could introduce legislation.

“The wisdom of introducing legislation in the Oireachtas in 2017 if large parts of that legislation would have to be repealed or substantially amended within a relatively short space of time is obviously open to question,” Ms Mitchell O’Connor said in her reply.

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