A gift voucher is a voucher given as a present that you can exchange for goods or services.
There are many benefits to gift vouchers but there are also some risks. You may lose the voucher, it may expire before you can use it or you may not be able to spend the balance on a gift voucher. It is important that you know the conditions and rules that apply before you buy a gift voucher.
Irish law will introduce extra protections for gift vouchers sold on or after 2 December 2019, under the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019. See ‘New 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 many 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 are entering into a contract with the trader. The voucher is like cash that you hand over in exchange for goods and services. In the past, traders were free to set terms and conditions, for example, how and when the voucher can be used, as long as they didn’t conflict with your consumer rights. Both you (or the recipient) and the trader are bound by these terms.
New gift vouchers legislation
After 2 December 2019, the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019 sets out new rules for gift vouchers.
The new rules state that:
- 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 new rules
The new rules do not apply to:
- Vouchers that 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 apply to these vouchers.
The new 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 redeeming the e-money, 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 informed about the terms that apply to the voucher before you buy.
You should check the small print for the following:
- 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 new 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 state that you have to 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 can be 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: There may be restrictions, for example, the voucher may only be redeemable by phoning a number or by email.
- Other important information: For
- 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, you should ask the trader before you buy.
If you buy a gift voucher or gift card for someone else, make sure that you give the terms and conditions and the receipt to them with the voucher or card.
Expiry dates on gift vouchers
Vouchers bought after 2 December 2019
Under the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019 there is a 5-year minimum expiry date for all vouchers sold after 2 December 2019.
Under the new 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 the policy is displayed in the shop. If it’s 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.
If you are buying a voucher as a gift, make sure the recipient knows the expiry date and can use the voucher during the time allowed. If you get a voucher, check for the expiry date straight away. Don’t assume that there isn’t one just because you can’t see it - try to find it on the website or contact customer service. Set a reminder on your phone to remind you to use it on or before that date.
Some traders may be flexible. If you find that the voucher has expired you should contact the trader to see if they would be willing to 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 is under no legal obligation 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 that your voucher will be honoured. If a new owner takes over, they are under no obligation to honour your voucher.
For this reason, it is advisable to buy gift vouchers using a credit or debit card, as you may be able to avail of 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, your first step should be to 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, you can 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.