Know your consumer rights when it comes to gift vouchers

Lifestyle Reporter

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Lifestyle Reporter

Know your consumer rights when it comes to gift vouchers

Gift vouchers can be a very convenient present for someone. They eliminate the guess work for buyers and also allow the recipient the chance to spend it as they wish, but there can be drawbacks and some risk to them as well.

There are different types of gift vouchers depending on who issues them, including those that can be used in:

- A specific shop
- A specific chain of shops
- A wide range of different traders (for example, for a specific shopping centre) or any club or association of shops
- You do not have the right to get change when you use a gift voucher unless the voucher's terms specifically state that change will be given.

Minimise the risk
When you buy or receive a gift voucher or gift card try to minimise the risk by:

- Always checking the terms and conditions including the expiry date, what happens to any used part, and whether it can be used in every outlet if the shop is part of a chain.
- Buying vouchers that can be used at more than one outlet or chain.
- Using your vouchers as quickly as possible.

 
Know the expiry policies and expiry dates
Some shops do not have a clear gift voucher expiry policy but others do try to make sure that consumers are made aware of this by printing the policy or expiry date on the voucher itself, or by making it clear on their website and in their shops. Always check if there is an expiry date printed on the voucher and if not, ask the shop.

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. Check out our list of gift voucher and gift card expiry policies. If you are giving the voucher to someone as a gift, remember to pass on any terms and conditions that came with the voucher.

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.

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.

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 there are some thing to watch out for:

- Their minimum usage rules
- Expiry dates
- What happens to unused credit
- 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.

Thinking of buying a gift voucher or gift card? Or have you just received one as a present?
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.

Online group discount websites
These websites provide deals and discounts on hotels, restaurants, leisure activities, hairdressing, beauty treatments, electronics and much more. They are also becoming a very popular way of buying gift vouchers. Rules on the use of these vouchers vary according to the group discount website you use and the business that is selling the deal, so always check the terms and conditions before you buy a voucher. It is also a good idea to check out the website of the business the deal applies to. When you buy one of these vouchers, you have the same consumer rights as you do when you buy a gift voucher in a shop.

If the shop closes down
If you have a voucher for a store that closes down before you get to use it, you become an unsecured creditor. If a liquidator is appointed to wind up the company, you must register your claim for the value of your voucher with this official. Your claim will only be considered after all other creditors have been paid, such as banks and the shop's staff, and realistically it will be very difficult to get your gift voucher honoured.

For more advice on your consumer rights visit the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission website here.