The new law amends the already substantial Consumer Protection Act 2007 (Act). It adds a new section that changes the law governing gift vouchers and similar instruments such as gift cards, coupons and other documents. However, the new law does not cover gift vouchers given by way of a refund for goods returned; gift vouchers given as part of a customer loyalty scheme; cheques or bank drafts; or gift vouchers that constitute electronic money.
Consumers will be happy to know that:
There will now be a minimum validity period of at least five years in which to use the gift voucher. If there is an expiry date, this must be shown on the gift voucher for the consumer to see
The total value of the gift voucher does not need to be used in a single transaction
Where the total value is not used, the remaining balance (as long as it is above €1) should be reimbursed to the consumer in cash, electronic transfer or by way of another gift voucher (though this will be at the discretion of the trader). Where another gift voucher is issued, that gift voucher must have the same or a no shorter expiry date, as that of the original gift voucher. This may be less than the original year period
Traders may no longer ask for a fee to alter the name on a gift voucher should the name of the consumer change (be it for marriage, an error in the original spelling or other reason). This may need to be supported by accompanying documents (passport, licence) if asked to verify the change
Consumers may use more than one gift voucher in a single transaction
Where a gift voucher has been lost or stolen (and we assume this will need to be evidenced), the replacement card, if granted, will have the same expiry date as the original gift voucher. There is no obligation on the trader to replace the lost or stolen gift voucher
Consumers may also give, sell or transfer the gift voucher to another person who will be entitled to all of the benefits listed above
What this means for a trader
Where a trader issues gift vouchers with terms contrary to the new law, the provisions of the new law will override the traders terms. Furthermore, that trader may be liable to fines and penalties, either on conviction on indictment (to a fine not exceeding €60,000 or imprisonment up to 18 months), or on summary conviction (to a fine not exceeding €3,000 or imprisonment up to 6 months) if found in breach of the new law. Subsequent offences will carry with them greater fines and penalties.
This will come as welcome news for consumers as a gift voucher is a common present given throughout the year. The removal of limitations and restrictions should give consumers more freedom to use and apply gift vouchers at their leisure, in the manner that it was intended to be given. Therefore if in doubt, struggling to think of a suitable present or under the pressure of time, purchase a gift voucher.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.