What is a gift voucher?
A gift voucher is a voucher, usually given as a present, which you can instead of money to pay (or pay in part) for goods and services.
Gift vouchers can be paper gift certificates, electronic cards or gift cards. They can be issued by a single business or for a group of shops (such as a shopping centre). There are many benefits to gift vouchers but there are also some risks, for example, if you lose the voucher, it expires before you use it, or if you’re unable to spend the remaining balance. It is important you know the conditions and rules that apply before buying a gift voucher.
Irish law introduced extra protections for gift vouchers sold on or after 2 December 2019, under the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019 (pdf). See ‘Gift vouchers legislation' below.
Rules covering gift vouchers
The following rules apply to gift vouchers sold after 2 December 2019:
- Gift vouchers must either have no expiry date or be valid for at least 5 years
- The seller cannot make you spend the gift voucher in one single transaction
- The seller cannot charge a fee to change the name on a gift voucher (if you must register a name on the voucher)
- If the balance remaining on a gift voucher is more than €1 after you buy something, the seller must refund the balance to you. They can give you cash, make an electronic transfer or give you another gift voucher
The rules are set out in the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019.
Exceptions to the rules
The rules do not apply to:
- Vouchers you can only use to buy goods and services at a discounted price, from a specific seller on a set date, or for 3 months or less. For example, vouchers from deal websites such as Groupon or Pigsback
- Vouchers you got as part of a customer loyalty or promotion scheme
- Vouchers you got as a refund for goods you returned to a seller
- Vouchers and gift cards sold before 2 December 2019. The expiry period and the terms and conditions that applied at the time of purchase still apply to these vouchers
The rules do not apply to electronic money gift cards.
What is an electronic money gift card?
In general, electronic money gift cards (for example, One4all gift cards), are cards that can be used in different shops.
Rules that apply to electronic money gift cards:
- Before you buy the card, you must be told about the conditions for using the e-money card, including any fees
- Fees must be proportionate and in line with the costs actually incurred by the business who issues the card to you
Electronic money gift cards are regulated under the European Communities (Electronic Money) Regulations 2011. The Central Bank is responsible for enforcing these regulations.
Know the terms before you buy
You have the right to be told about the terms of the voucher before you buy.
Things to check in the small print
|Things to check||Examples|
Is there an expiry date, when is it?If the voucher was bought after 2 December 2019, it must follow the rules on expiry dates.
|Need to book or reserve by a certain date||
Check if the voucher has a deadline that you must book or make a reservation.For example, it could say you must book the service within 1 month of purchase.
|Only valid during certain dates or times||
Check for any restrictions on when you can use a voucher.For example, Monday to Friday or between 5pm and 7pm.
|What exactly the voucher entitles you to||
Check what the seller promises to provide when the voucher is used.For example, a one-night stay in a hotel with breakfast included.
|How the voucher can be used||For example, you may only be able to use the voucher over the phone or by email.|
|Other important information||
What happens to any remaining balance?
If you can you transfer the voucher to someone else?
What happens if you lose or damage the voucher?
If you are not sure about any of the terms, ask the seller before you buy.
If you buy a gift voucher or gift card for someone else, make sure you give them the terms and conditions and the receipt with the voucher or card.
Expiry dates on gift vouchers
There is a 5-year minimum expiry date for all vouchers sold after 2 December 2019.
Gift vouchers must either:
- Have no expiry date
- Be valid for at least 5 years from the date the gift voucher is issued
You must be given details of the expiry date in a durable format (for example, on paper or by email) at the time you buy the gift voucher.
The legislation covering expiry dates is the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019. It does not apply to gift vouchers bought before 2 December 2019.
Vouchers bought before 2 December 2019
You should have been made aware of the expiry date at time of purchase. Some traders print the expiry on the voucher itself, on the packaging, on the website or you can see the policy in the shop. If it is not clear, ask or look for the policy on the website before buying. Expiry dates can vary as the trader decides how long they are valid for.
Some sellers can be flexible. If your voucher has expired, contact the seller to see if they will extend it. However, if you bought the gift voucher before 2 December 2019, they have no legal obligation to do this and may charge you a fee.
If you lose a gift voucher
Gift vouchers are like cash, so if you lose it, the seller does not have to replace it.
If a voucher was made out to you personally and is not transferable to anyone else, you may be able to get a replacement. This depends on the gift voucher’s terms and conditions and the company’s policy.
If you lose a gift card, you may be able to get a replacement card but you need to check with the seller. You could be charged a fee for the replacement card.
If the company goes out of business?
If a company goes out of business before you use the voucher, you may have trouble getting your money back.
Usually, the seller will owe money to several people so your claim is just one of many. There are rules for the priority to be given to the various debts owed in the case of the business going into liquidation or receivership. Generally, you will be low in the order of priority.
You will need to make a claim in writing to the appointed administrator or liquidator (if applicable) providing proof of your voucher. However, it is unlikely your voucher will be honoured. If a new owner takes over, they do not have to honour your voucher.
For this reason, you should buy gift vouchers using a credit or debit card, as you may be able to use chargeback through your bank or credit card provider – see more below.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has more information on companies going out of business.
Get more help
If a seller refuses to honour a gift card, first try to settle the dispute directly with them.
If you cannot resolve the dispute, you can:
- Use out-of-court procedures such as the European Consumer Centres Network (for cross-border disputes only) and Online Dispute Resolution (for national and cross-border online disputes)
- Take a claim against the seller using the Small Claims Procedure. For cross-border disputes within the EU, you can use the European Small Claims Procedure.
- Contact your card provider and ask them to reverse the transaction. This is known as 'chargeback'. Some other payment methods also provide protection schemes (for example, PayPal buyer protection). The CCPC has more information on chargeback.
The CCPC has more information about gift vouchers.