Consumers being ‘fleeced’ on gift vouchers, claims Murphy

Social Democrats co-leader brings Bill aimed at stopping firms using overly restrictive terms

The gift voucher business is worth more than €300m in the Republic each year. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The gift voucher business is worth more than €300m in the Republic each year. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Irish consumers continue to be “fleeced” by merchants selling gift vouchers with overly restrictive terms and conditions while the Government sits on its hands waiting for an EU ruling, the Social Democrats have said.

Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy is to bring a new Bill before the Dáil later this week which would stop retailers imposing expiration limits of less than five years on vouchers while prohibiting a range of charges connected to their use.

The gift voucher business is worth more than €300 million in the Republic each year and although tens of millions of euro worth of them will be bought in the run-up to Christmas, much of that money will effectively be wasted as the area is largely unregulated.

Retailers can set whatever time limits on usage they want and can impose charges on inactive cards. Expiration dates and extra charges can frequently be buried deep in the terms and conditions making it almost impossible for either buyers or recipients to be made aware of them.

The Social Democrats Consumer Rights (Gift Vouchers) Bill 2017 comes more than two years after Richard Bruton, then minister for jobs, published a Bill to deal with a range of consumer protection issues and contract law including issues around gift vouchers. However, there is no sign of that Consumer Rights Bill in the legislative agenda.

The new legislation authored by Ms Murphy aims to limit expiry dates on gift vouchers to five years and to prohibit charges for issuing gift vouchers. It also seeks to prevent companies taking money off card balances if they are not used by certain dates. It promises to ban charges for the repayment of any credit balance to gift vouchers

“The Government has promised to do something about gift vouchers for over 2½ years,” Ms Murphy said. “The department carried out public consultation [and] the minister said he hoped to submit the draft scheme to Government in early 2016.”

However, she said the Bill had not been brought to the Dáil and it was not on the autumn list of legislation.

She said one reason for the delay was because part of the new legislation overlaps with proposed EU changes for online and other distance sales, and digital content.

“We believe there is no reason for any further delay. Customers are being fleeced while we wait on the Government to act. If the European Union requires further changes then let those changes be made whenever there is a final decision,” she said.