Making Cents: Beware pitfalls of the giftcard and watch expiry date

Gráinne McGuinness offers some more consumer advice. This week she discusses being wary of gift cards.

Making Cents: Beware pitfalls of the giftcard and watch expiry date

Gráinne McGuinness offers some more consumer advice. This week she discusses being wary of gift cards.

There was potential good news for consumers last week, as the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys announced Government approval for a bill which will introduce a minimum expiry date of five years for gift vouchers.

“I believe [this] can make a real difference to consumers,” Ms Humphreys said. “At the moment, Ireland doesn’t have clear rules on the expiry dates of gift vouchers, which time and time again results in needless confusion and frustration. In some cases, individual vouchers aren’t even clear about their own cut-off point.

“Research undertaken by the National Consumer Agency in 2013 found that almost half of those surveyed had let a gift voucher expire at some point without using it.

It is extremely frustrating if a person, or somebody close to them, has paid in cash for a voucher only to be told it is no longer valid a relatively short time afterwards. While many retailers do honour vouchers in these instances, others do not. This simply isn’t fair and needs to change.

Most consumers would agree with the minister and welcome the new rules but the bad news is they are unlikely to be put in force until the end of the year at the earliest. Meanwhile we are entering peak wedding season, one of the many occasions when vouchers are a popular choice with people who give gifts.

I honestly believe those who give vouchers or gift cards should consider giving cash, for weddings and other presents. The recipients know from the voucher how much you have spent anyway and cash avoids all the downsides of vouchers. It is totally flexible and you very rarely hear of people misplacing euro notes.

However, if you prefer a voucher, take steps to ensure that the receiver gets to use its full value.

The first thing to do is pass on any terms and conditions. Give the recipient any information you get on the expiry date or charges that may apply. Terms and conditions should also say if the bearer has to use the voucher all in one go.

When buying the gift voucher, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission suggests using a debit or credit card to pay for it. This may give you extra protection if something goes wrong such as the business closing down. If it does, the buyer may be able to request a chargeback from their card company because the service paid for was not provided. There are a number of reasons why a sale can be charged back to the seller, and these are set out under the rules of the various credit and debit card schemes.

If you receive a voucher as a gift, you can also take steps to make sure the donor’s kindness does not go to waste. The best advice is to spend the voucher or gift card soon as soon as possible. That way you minimise the risk of potential problems, including the voucher expiring, retailers going out of business, losing the voucher or forgetting you have it.

If you cannot spend it immediately, store it somewhere safe and set a reminder in a calendar or on your phone, giving you a decent time before it is due to expire. If the expiry date is not clear or there is no expiry date written down, call and find out what the expiry date is. Don’t assume there is none.

Consider making a note of where you have put the voucher with the reminder. Retailers do not and generally will not replace lost vouchers. It is the same as losing cash.

Ms Humphreys also intends to take on the issue of fees. “I know the issues of fees is a bone of contention to consumers,” she said. I am aware of cases where fees of as much as €3 per month apply to gift vouchers after 12 months. This means that a voucher for €25 can rendered completely worthless after 20 months. The Bill will deal with fees as well as expiry dates.”

Check when fees kick in and aim to have it spent by then. Gift cards can often turn into a present for the retailer, a few simple steps can avoid this and make sure it benefits the intended recipient.

DEAL OF THE WEEK

Pinergy is running an exclusive online offer until June 30, incentivising consumers to become energy efficient by kitting out homes that sign up for Pinergy’s smart meters with 20 free LED bulbs and €20 credit.

The company says that 55% of households in Ireland are not monitoring their energy consumption or adjusting their usage.

Pinergy say this highlights an opportunity for Irish households, as energy costs represent a significant annual expenditure.

“Our latest research shines a light on the huge opportunity that is now available for many households around the country to see energy in a new way, by using smart technology meters to more effectively monitor and manage their overall energy consumption and expenditure,” Enda Gunnell, CEO at Pinergy said.

“Pinergy’s latest consumer promotion is a real incentive to kick-start consumers into taking positive action right now, as they embark on this smart energy journey.”

To avail of Pinergy’s promotion, go to pinergy.ie/seethedifference.

Pinergy is running an exclusive online offer until June 30, incentivising consumers to become energy efficient by kitting out homes that sign up for Pinergy’s smart meters with 20 free LED bulbs and €20 credit.

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