The President, Michael D. Higgins, recently signed the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019 (Act) into law.
The Act contains a few substantive changes to the way gift vouchers operate, including:
- Gift vouchers must be valid for at least 5 years
- If the voucher contains an expiry date, then the expiry date must be specified on the voucher
- A gift voucher shall not force the consumer to redeem the full value of the gift voucher in one transaction
- If the voucher is mostly redeemed but the remaining balance left over is so small that it cannot be redeemed, then the trader is obliged to reimburse the remaining balance to the person. The trader can do this in cash, by electronic funds transfer or by issuing a new voucher of the appropriate value
- A gift voucher contract is not allowed to limit the number of gift vouchers that a person is allowed to redeem in one transaction
- Where a gift voucher contract contains a provision for how a gift voucher can be replaced if it is lost or stolen, then the replacement gift voucher must not expire before the date of the original gift voucher
Before this Act there was no regulation of expiry dates of gift vouchers and there was no specific legislation dealing with gift vouchers, although gift vouchers supplied to consumers were subject to the provisions of general consumer protection legislation. Under the previous regime, retailers were free to determine the expiry dates of their gift vouchers, with some expiring after as little as 6 months. Retailers were able to refuse to give change (even in voucher form) for a purchase below the value of a gift card. Retailers also often refused to accept vouchers during sale periods. Many gift voucher issuers did not replace lost or stolen gift vouchers.
The Act, which still requires a ministerial order before it becomes operative, is good news for consumers, in particular in light of the pre-Christmas shopping season. Although the Act fails to address all of the perceived issues with gift vouchers (eg it does not deal with inactive balances or retailers' fees), the protections that it brings for consumers are to be welcomed.