Vouchers are a handy option at Christmas time – a more personal gift compared to an envelope with cash when you don’t have a clue what else to buy.
However, there are a few things to be aware of when purchasing or using gift vouchers, particularly in relation to expiry dates. In fact, one of our readers was in touch recently to say they had stumbled on this issue while attempting to redeem a €350 travel voucher (purchased last Christmas) in August. Unable to use it online, they travelled to Dublin to be told it had expired by one week.
Understandably, being told that something you exchanged your hard-earned money for is now worthless is a bitter pill to swallow. Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy has proposed a Bill that would limit expiry dates on gift vouchers and ban ‘certain fees and charges’.
“Sometimes gift vouchers are treated as if they are not money but they are very much so. It is not as if they are coupons cut out of newspapers. They are bought with peoples’ hard-earned cash and very often it is the recipient who discovers the terms and conditions attached to gift vouchers. We can all imagine situations where people forget about gift vouchers and discover that there is a problem when it is too late,” Murphy stated during a debate in Dáil Éireann last month. “This Bill is concerned with strengthening consumers’ rights when it comes to gift vouchers. Currently, everything is stacked in the retailers’ favour. Retailers can charge for issuing gift vouchers and can cancel the card or voucher after a short period. They can also apply charges for the non-use of a card, thus rendering it worthless and can apply charges for refunding the balance. Many retailers adopt a ‘use it or lose it’ policy, effectively. The imposition of strict and unreasonable expiry dates comes at the expense of customers.”
So, how can you make sure that you make the most of your gift voucher?
– Always check if there is an expiry date printed on the voucher. If not, ask the shop how long you have to use it or what their policies are.
– Keep it safe. Vouchers are like cash and shops don’t have to replace a voucher if you lose it. However, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) notes that “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.”
– Use it as soon as possible. There’s nothing worse than discovering a voucher in a drawer and realising that the business closed down or changed hands a few days beforehand. If you don’t want to use it immediately, set a reminder on your phone or computer well in advance of the expiry date.
– Before you use it, check the business policy regarding any unused funds. You may have to use the entire balance in one transaction.