Gift company under fire over plan to levy monthly fee on vouchers
CONSUMERS who do not use gift vouchers inside a year will end up having €1.45 a month deducted from the value of the voucher by the largest player in the market.
The Gift Voucher Shop, which operates the One4All vouchers, has changed its rules so that voucher cards no longer expire.
Up to now, voucher cards expired within a year and consumers who still had them had to spend €5 to renew them.
Now, The Gift Voucher Shop, which is majority owned by An Post, said it has dispensed with expiry dates.
But it admitted that it now extracts a monthly fee for vouchers not used within a year.
It comes as thousands of shoppers stock up on vouchers as gifts this Christmas and the move by The Gift Voucher Shop has been criticised as a "racket" by the consumers' watchdog.
Consumers' Association of Ireland chief executive Dermott Jewell called on voucher issuers to lower the monthly charge for those who do not use the vouchers within a year.
"This has become a money-making racket and it is really wrong," Mr Jewell said.
One4All vouchers are accepted in 5,500 shops nationwide, managing director Michael Dawson said.
The new charge emerged as research from the National Consumer Agency showed that more than one-third of consumers planned to buy vouchers this Christmas.
Only half of those buying vouchers ever bother to check the terms and conditions of use.
There is a fee of €2 when someone buys a voucher card -- a type of electronic gift voucher -- bought in post offices.
The fee rises to €3.49 if the card is bought online, with this charge including postage costs. There is a charge of €8 for replacing a lost or stolen card.
Mr Dawson insisted that his company had responded to consumer demands to do away with expiry dates. It is estimated that 20pc of vouchers are never cashed in. Some €300m worth of vouchers are thought to be issued every year.
Online vouchers, such as those issued by iTunes and Amazon, are understood to be popular this year as presents for young people.
The Gift Voucher Shop, which is expected to have sales of €135m this year, defended the monthly administrative deduction imposed on vouchers that are more than one year old. It is understood The Gift Voucher Shop gets a commission of around 8pc when a voucher is cashed in.
Mr Dawson insisted that his company could not get paid by retailers until vouchers were used.
Some vouchers issued by shopping centres deduct higher monthly charges for cards not used for a year or more.
The Dundrum Shopping Centre card has a monthly fee of €3 for cards not used inside 12 months.