A gift voucher is a voucher, usually given as a present, which you can exchange for goods or services.
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.
What is a gift voucher?
Gift vouchers are any voucher, coupon or other document (including an electronic document) that can be used instead of money to pay (or pay in part) for goods and services. Gift vouchers come in different forms, such as 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).
When you buy a gift voucher, you enter into a contract with the trader. The voucher is like cash that you hand over in exchange for goods and services.
Gift vouchers legislation
The rules for gift vouchers sold after 2 December 2019 are set out in the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019.
The rules state:
- Gift vouchers must have no expiry date or be valid for at least 5 years - see ‘Expiry dates on gift vouchers’ below
- Traders cannot specify that a gift voucher is spent in one transaction
- Traders cannot charge a fee to change the name on a gift voucher (if you have to register a name on the voucher)
- If the balance remaining on a gift voucher is more than €1 after you buy something with it, a trader must reimburse the balance to you. They can give you cash, make an electronic transfer or give you another gift voucher
Exceptions to the rules
The rules do not apply to:
- Vouchers you can only use to buy specified goods and services at a discounted price, from a specified trader on a specified date, or for a specified period of 3 months or less. For example, vouchers from deal websites such as Groupon or Pigsback
- Vouchers issued as part of a customer loyalty or promotion scheme
- Vouchers issued as a refund for goods you returned to a trader
- 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 a number of different shops.
Electronic money gift cards are regulated under the European Communities (Electronic Money) Regulations 2011. The Central Bank is responsible for enforcing these regulations.
Under the Regulations:
- You must be informed of the conditions for using the e-money card, including any fees before you buy the card
- Fees must be proportionate and in line with the costs actually incurred by the e-money issuer (that is, the business who issues the card to you)
Know the terms before you buy
You have the right to be told about the terms of the voucher before you buy.
Check the small print for:
- The expiry date: Is there one stated? If so, when is it? If the voucher was bought after 2 December 2019, it must comply with the rules on expiry dates.
- Requirement to book or reserve by a certain date: Vouchers for some services may have a deadline by which you must book or make a reservation. For example, it may say you must book the service within 1 month of purchase.
- Only valid during certain dates or times: There may be restrictions on when you can use a voucher, for example, Monday to Friday or between 5pm and 7pm.
- Exactly what the voucher entitles you to: This is what the trader promises to provide when the voucher is used (for example, a one-night stay in a hotel with breakfast included) or that the voucher can only be used in certain stores or for certain items.
- Information about how the voucher can be redeemed: For example, the voucher may only be redeemable by phoning a number or by email.
- Other important information: For example:
- What happens to any remaining balance?
- 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 trader 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. This is set out in the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019.
Under the rules, gift vouchers must either:
- Have no expiry date, or
- Must 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 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 traders may be flexible. If your voucher has expired, contact the trader 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 some may charge a fee.
What are my rights if I lose a gift voucher?
Gift vouchers are like cash, so if you lose them, the company does not have to replace them. If a voucher was made out to you specifically 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 retailer. You could be charged a fee for the replacement card.
What happens if a trader goes out of business?
If a trader goes out of business before you use the voucher, you may have difficulty getting your money back.
Usually, the trader 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 ‘Where can I get more help?’ below.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has more information on companies going out of business.
Where can I get more help?
If a trader refuses to honour a gift card, first try to settle the dispute directly with the trader.
If you bought the gift voucher after 2 December 2019, you should make the company aware of the rules under the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019.
If you cannot resolve the dispute, you have the following options:
- For Irish-based traders, contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) for information and advice
- For traders based in other EU countries, contact the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland for advice
- If you paid using a credit or debit card, 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.
- Take a claim against the trader through the courts using the small claims procedure.
The CCPC has more information about gift vouchers.