Business Personal Finance

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Is airline gift voucher name charge legal?

Your questions answered

3d illustration of gift box with planet earth inside and airplane tickets, concept for travel, tourism and holiday present.
3d illustration of gift box with planet earth inside and airplane tickets, concept for travel, tourism and holiday present.

Aine Carroll Director of communications and policy with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

Query: I bought my mother-in-law flight vouchers for Christmas. Unfortunately, I didn't realise when I bought the vouchers that her name on her passport is different to the one I know her by. Now if she wants to use the vouchers, the airline is demanding an administration charge to change the name on the voucher. Is this legal? Gerry, Co Kerry

Answer: Gift vouchers can be a very convenient present for someone, but there can be some drawbacks to them as well.

The simplest option would be for you to cancel the voucher, assuming that you bought it online. You can do this up to 14 days after you received the order and get a full refund. You should receive the refund no later than 14 days from when you told the airline that you wanted to cancel.

If this is not an option, look at the gift voucher's terms and conditions. Typically, you will be asked to agree to terms and conditions before you buy gift vouchers. These will set out any costs associated with buying the vouchers, the expiry date, what happens to unused voucher balances and the conditions of using the voucher.

The conditions may say that the name of the recipient as it appears on the voucher must be the same as the name used when they book flights using the voucher. Or maybe when you bought the voucher, it was flagged to you that the name of the voucher recipient must match her passport. There may also be detail about any costs associated with a name change in the terms and conditions once the voucher has been issued.

If you feel that the company is acting outside of its terms and conditions, you can then write it a letter of complaint bringing this to its attention.

Another option is to take a case to the Small Claims Court. You can use this process for claims up to €2,000 and there is a non-refundable application fee of €25. You can also contact the Small Claims Registrar in the local District Court before you send in your application to check if it will accept your case.

 

Returning customised boots

Query: I bought my son a pair of football boots for Christmas online. They are too small for him and I tried to return them as I have a cooling-off period of 14 days from when they are delivered. However, the seller has said it won't accept the return as I had them customised with my son's name. Can they do this? Gemma, Dublin 3

Answer: Generally speaking, when you buy something online, you can cancel your order for any reason up to 14 days after you receive it. This right to cancel only applies to businesses based in the EU.

However there are some exceptions. These include personalised items, which means your son's football boots would not be covered as they have been customised with his name. Other exclusions include items which might deteriorate rapidly - such as food, or where the seal is broken on CDs, DVDs and computer software. They also include items that are sealed for hygiene reasons - if the seal has been broken.

The business must tell you that you will lose the right to cancel if you customise the item or if the item falls within these exclusions.

The reason you are given a 14-day right to cancel when you buy online is so you can examine the goods you ordered when they arrive to see how they work. Put simply, you can examine what you ordered to the same extent as you would if you bought it in a shop. Unfortunately though, in your case, the item you bought falls outside the scope of the right to cancel.

 

Faulty goods bought in sale

Query: I treated myself to a pair of designer heels in the sales. When I wore them to a wedding a few days later, the heel snapped while I was on the dance floor. I returned them to the shop and asked for a refund as they are clearly faulty. However, the manager insists that as I bought them on sale, I don't have rights under consumer law. Where do I stand? Karen, Co Galway

Answer: Your consumer rights don't change in a sale. If something you bought at a sale price turns out to be faulty, your consumer rights are the same as at any other time of the year. In all cases, what you buy must be as described to you, fit for the intended purpose and be of satisfactory quality. You are still entitled to a repair, replacement or a refund of the original price you paid for the shoes.

You will, however, need proof of purchase such as a receipt, credit or debit card statement to show the price you paid. You can ask for a refund, repair, replacement or reduction in price as a solution.

If there is a major fault with the item, you are entitled to reject the item and seek a refund from the business.

However, the law doesn't say exactly what you are entitled to when you return a faulty item so it is up to you to negotiate with the business and agree with it on how the problem will be sorted out.

You should make a formal complaint to the business in writing as soon as possible and send them photos of the shoes clearly showing the snapped heel.

Explain that under consumer law you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund. Hopefully, once you explain your situation to the business, you will have your issue resolved. If not, another option is to take a case to the Small Claims Court.

 

Cancelling subscription

Query: I signed up for a subscription to an online weight loss service. Unfortunately, the service is not what I expected and I want to cancel my subscription. Is this straightforward to do? Pamela, Co Dublin

Answer: If you decide to cancel a service you paid for online, you have 14 days from when you agree to the contract to do so. However, this only applies to businesses based in the EU. If you agreed to the service starting within the 14-day cancellation period, the business can charge you for the portion of the service you used before you decided to cancel. Once you tell the business you want to cancel, you are entitled to a refund within 14 days of doing so.

How you cancel a service should be explained to you by the business before you sign up, for example, in the terms and conditions of your contract.

Under EU legislation (the Consumer Rights Directive), a cancellation form should have been provided to you, so you can complete this to let the business know you are cancelling.

If it is more than 14 days since you agreed to your contract or if the business is outside the EU, check the terms and conditions to see what it says about cancelling.

When you signed up to the site, you would have agreed to these terms and conditions which may have stated that you need to cancel your subscription within a set amount of time or another month's payment would be taken from your card. Some sites, however, let you cancel at any time with no further charge.

Online subscriptions are usually set up as a recurring charge on a debit or credit card, as opposed to a direct debit. You cannot cancel a recurring charge with your card provider (usually your bank) as you can with a direct debit.

So, you must contact the company you have the subscription with to cancel the recurring charge. This should be done in such a way so that you have proof that you asked it to cancel your subscription, such as by email.

Once you have cancelled, check your bank or credit card statements to see that the recurring charge is no longer being taken out of your account.

If the charges are still going through, you may need to contact your card provider, and look for a chargeback on your card for any payments taken after you cancelled with the company. You should also provide evidence to your bank that you have attempted to contact the company to cancel the subscription but have not been successful.

If all else fails, your last resort may be to cancel your card and apply for a new one, but you should also continue to apply for the chargeback.

  • Email your questions to lmcbride@independent.ie or write to ‘Your Questions, Sunday Independent Business, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1’.
  • While we will endeavour to place your questions with the most appropriate expert for your query, this column is not intended to replace professional advice.

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