Government plans ban on expiry dates for gift vouchers
The Government is to ban expiry dates on gift vouchers as part of a major overhaul of consumer law.
And, for the first time, consumers who download or stream music, videos and apps are also to be given statutory rights and remedies if something goes wrong.
The changes are part of a new Consumer Rights Bill which Jobs and Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton will unveil today.
Every year thousands of gift vouchers and cards go to waste because they are out of date, so the ban on expiry dates will be a massive benefit to consumers.
A survey by the National Consumer Agency (NCA) found that 48pc of consumers have let a voucher lapse in the past, showing this is an extremely widespread problem.
When it comes to gifts, the new law will also give consumers who get a present the same rights as the person who purchased it.
It will also give people much stronger rights when it comes to online purchases - in recognition of the huge surge of such business, Mr Bruton said.
"A consumer who buys a film on DVD enjoys the protection of consumer legislation, while one who streams or downloads the same film does not," he said.
People buying services will also get enhanced rights, including the option to have a substandard service remedied or refunded for the first time.
Customers will also be given a standard 30-day period to return faulty goods and get a full refund in place of the current unclear rules.
Mr Bruton said there was a basic imbalance in contracts between consumers and the people they purchased products from which required improved legal protection.
The new law would clear up anomalies and gaps in consumer rights that had grown up through years of overlapping legislation and rules at national and EU level.
"For example, a consumer whose car breaks down because of a fault with the car currently has two separate sets of remedies that are neither consistent nor certain, while one whose car breaks down because it was serviced poorly has no clear, readily accessible remedy," he explained.
People purchasing healthcare, social services and betting will also be given new information rights under the proposed legislation.
This will include clear price information for GP visits and other medical consultations.
A consultation on the new bill opens today and consumers and businesses are being urged to give their views before the closing date of August 28.
Mr Bruton is aiming to have the new legislation brought into force by the middle of next year.
The NCA advises consumers to use gift vouchers as soon as possible to lower the risk of them losing out in the event of the business closing down.
If a company goes out of business, consumers should check to see if their voucher can be used at more than one outlet or chain.
It also urges the public to check the conditions that apply to gift vouchers as, according to its own research, one in four people don't check expiry dates.
If a consumer allows a voucher to expire, retailers do not have to accept it. However, the NCA says it is still worth trying to use it as the retailer may accept it as a gesture of goodwill.
Some gift vouchers apply monthly maintenance charges after one year which will eat into the balance of the voucher if it is not used.
The NCA also advises consumers to take care of a gift voucher as, if lost, the shop does not have to replace it.