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Monday 11 December 2017

Did you get a voucher for Christmas? Here's a few tips to ensure best use

Young shoppers browse for bargains in Arnotts in Dublin. Photo: Michael Chester
Young shoppers browse for bargains in Arnotts in Dublin. Photo: Michael Chester

Charlie Weston Personal Finance Editor

Consumers have been warned to use to vouchers and gift cards quickly to avoid them expiring.

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 month.

There is currently no legislative protections consumers when it comes to vouchers and gift cards despite spending of €600m a year on them, experts said.

The market leader is the One4All card, which is operated by the An Post subsidiary The Gift Voucher Shop and is accepted in more than 7,000 outlets.

But it is being challenged this Christmas by Retail Excellence Ireland which has launched a multi-store gift card called FromMe2You.

The new card is accepted by retailers, including Brown Thomas , Harvey Norman, Shaws department stores, Carphone Warehouse, Fields Jewellers, EZ Living, Currys PC World, Halpenny Golf, Allcare Pharmacy, Avoca, Home Store and More, Butlers Chocolates and Tiger.

However, not everyone will spend their voucher.

One in four consumers have lost out at some point by letting a gift card or voucher expire, according to research conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes on behalf of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

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.

He said that a monthly deduction could wipe out a €20 voucher very quickly if it has 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 its rights to charge maintenance fees, Mr Jewell said.

“This is an aspect of the law on which the Consumers’ Association of Ireland has long campaigned for change.”

The expiry date issue is under consideration as part of the new Consumer Rights Bill, with a target for the enactment of the legislation set for the middle of 2016.

But Mr Jewell added: “However, the current situation will stand for this Christmas period at least.”

He said that in cases where shops close down the chances of getting back the value of the voucher are very slim.

Chair of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Isolde Goggin said: “Our research shows that gift vouchers remain popular among consumers in Ireland.

“However, to avoid potential problems when using a gift voucher it is important that consumers check the conditions and any expiry dates from gift vouchers they purchase or receive because they vary significantly,” Ms Goggin added.


Expiry policies and dates

Expiry dates vary widely. Some shops give you six months to redeem your voucher, so a gift voucher you received at Christmas and left in the bottom drawer will be no use by the following July.

Other shops have far more flexible “no expiry” vouchers or may be willing to extend the expiry date if you ask.

The advice from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is to check out the expiry policy for the gift voucher and gift card you are giving or have received.

If a voucher does not have an expiry date on it and the shop won’t let you use it, then you have the option to use the Small Claims procedure in the courts.

Lost vouchers and receipts

If you lose a gift voucher, the shop doesn't have to replace it. It's just like losing cash - so always keep the voucher somewhere safe.

 But if the voucher was made out to you specifically and is not transferable to another person, the shop may be able to issue you a new one and cancel the original voucher, according to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

 When you buy a gift voucher, always ask for a receipt.  Remember, there are other ways you can show proof of purchase, such as a credit or debit card statement.

Gift cards

Gift cards, where you can top up your credit, are also popular. But you may need to top-up the card in order to reactivate it

Some gift cards have maintenance fees of around €3 a month, which come into effect soon after the card is bought.

So if you give someone this type of gift card for €40, and they don’t use it for a year, maintenance charges at €3 a month will mean there is only €4 left on it after a year, according to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

Check all the terms and conditions including the expiry date and whether it has a partial encashment policy - in other words, what happens to the amount left over if you buy something for less than the total value of the gift voucher or card.

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