Minister’s plans for gift-voucher expiry charge falters

Changes proposed by Humphreys will not come into effect ahead of Christmas shopping period

Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys. In June, the Minister secured the backing of Cabinet for plans to introduce a minimum five-year expiry date on gift vouchers. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys. In June, the Minister secured the backing of Cabinet for plans to introduce a minimum five-year expiry date on gift vouchers. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

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Plans to introduce legislation stopping companies from charging maintenance fees on gift cards or selling vouchers with expiry limits of less than five years have faltered amid intense lobbying from the largest gift voucher company in the State.

As a result, changes proposed by the Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys will not come into effect ahead of the busy Christmas period when vouchers worth tens of millions of euro will be bought and sold.

In June, Ms Humphreys secured the backing of Cabinet for plans to introduce a minimum five-year expiry date on gift vouchers. As part of her Bill, she sought to tackle the issue of gift voucher fees. The process was opened for public consultation in August and more than 100 submissions were received.

The Gift Voucher Shop (GVS), which owns One4All, was one of several voucher companies to make detailed submissions as part of the process. It also submitted a legal opinion received from solicitors acting on its behalf.

In addition, it wrote submissions objecting to the removal of charges applied to cards if they are not used within 12 months which were then sent to the Department of Enterprise from several town chambers of commerce including Mallow, Thurles and Sligo.

“One4All asked us if we would support them and our submission to the public consultation process was a letter they worded,” confirmed John Boland of the Thurles Chamber of Commerce.

Submission

In a statement, GVS said it had made a detailed and comprehensive submission regarding the proposed legislation concerning gift cards and gift vouchers in Ireland “like many other companies”.

The spokesman said it operated gift cards for various Chambers of Commerce across Ireland and was “happy to confirm that [GVS]has also fully supported the various chambers with whom GVS works in making detailed submissions on the legislation including provision to the chambers of details of the impact of the legislation on their gift card schemes”.

The spokesman said that as the legislative process was still ongoing, “it would be inappropriate to comment” further.

A spokeswoman for Ms Humphreys said the Minister felt that “many consumers are being ripped off by these so called ‘dormancy’ fees which kick in after 12 months if a gift card has not been used and which can dramatically reduce the value of the card in a short space of time”.

Legal advice

She added that in the face of objections, the Minister had sought legal advice from the Attorney General in relation to this specific aspect of the Bill and it was received last week.

The spokeswoman said it would have to consider that advice with a view to bringing the final Bill to Government for approval and publication in the coming weeks.

However it is now accepted no changes will be possible before Christmas. “The Minister is disappointed that it has not proved possible to progress the Bill more quickly for the benefit of consumers but it is an absolute priority for her to have the legislation enacted in the next Dáil term,” the spokeswoman concluded.

It is not the first time politicians have struggled to get consumer friendly legislation tackling a largely unregulated sector which is worth in excess of €600 million each year passed.

Rejected

In 2009, the Labour Party made an attempt to bring about legislative change with the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill but it was rejected by the government of the day.

In 2015, the then minister for enterprise Richard Bruton published a draft consumer rights Bill which contained a number of provisions for the regulation of vouchers but it never became law. And an attempt by the Social Democrats to bring another Bill before the Dáil last year came to nothing.

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