Voucher vulture? Here's how to play your (gift) cards right

If you're thinking or giving or receiving a voucher this Christmas there are some things you might want to know first...

Due to a new tax examption employers will be able to reward staff by up to €500 with no tax implications

Due to a new tax examption employers will be able to reward staff by up to €500 with no tax implications

 

In a perfect world we’d all spend the latter days of December exchanging inspired and thoughtful presents with our nearest and dearest but, sadly, our world is somewhat imperfect which is why we have gift vouchers. Even though they’re not a million miles from cold hard cash – a gift most of us shy away from  –  they are still sure to be greeted with a bigger smile than some dodgy talcum powder/aftershave combo found gathering dust in your local pharmacy.

But you need to play your (gift) cards right when both giving and getting them.

1. More than 50 per cent of Irish adults will give at least one voucher this Christmas and the sector has grown to be worth more than €600 million annually. A terrifying amount of that cash is utterly wasted. 

2. Around 20 per cent of the vouchers bought during Christmases past have never been redeemed. That means that Last Christmas we collectively turned our noses up at €120m.   That’s right. 120. Million. Euro. 

3. According to a survey carried out a couple of years back by what was then the National Consumer Agency (NCA)  and is now the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, 48 per cent of us have let a voucher lapse. Vouchers don’t actually have to carry the expiry date on them but it does have to be somewhere in the terms and conditions. And we all read the terms and conditions, don’t we?

4. The scales of justice may soon tip in consumers’ favour. Expiry dates on gift vouchers might be scrapped by next Christmas if the Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton has his way – or if his party is returned to Government come the springtime. Last May he unveiled a major new Consumer Protection bill which would, among other things, ban expiry dates on gift vouchers. It is currently wending its  way slowly through the corridors of power and, all going well, it could be law by the middle of next year. No rush, there lads.

5. You do not have the right to get change when you use a gift voucher, unless the voucher’s terms specifically state that change will be given. This means that if someone gives you a €100 voucher for a particular shop – or, maybe airline – and you spend half it on a single purchase, they can tell you to go whistle for the rest of it. Is that fair? Of course it isn’t.

6. If you get a voucher for a shop that subsequently goes bust, you are snookered. You suddenly become what is known as a unsecured creditor and if you are to get anything you need to wait for the tax man and banks and all other creditors get paid first.  That is why it is a good idea to buy vouchers that can be used at more than one outlet or chain to protect against a single shop going to the wall.

7. When it comes to multi-store options you have the One4All card – which is operated by the An Post subsidiary The Gift Voucher Shop and is accepted in more than 7,000 outlets. Ahead of Christmas, Retail Excellence Ireland has launched a new multi-store gift card  to rival it.  It is called FromMe2You, and will be accepted by retailers, including Brown Thomas , Harvey Norman, Shaws department stores, Carphone Warehouse, Fields Jewellers, EZ Living, Currys PC World, Halpenny Golf, Allcare Pharmacy, Avoca, Home Store and More, Butlers Chocolates and Tiger.

8. Last week the Government announced its intention to double to €500 the cap on the tax-exempt voucher rewards that employers can give staff.  It will be in place in plenty of time for Christmas so employers will be able to reward staff by up to €500 with no tax implications for either party.

9. If you lose a gift voucher, a shop doesn’t have to replace it. It’s just like losing cash, so always keep the voucher somewhere safe.

10. Some gift cards have maintenance fees of as much as €3 a month. They can kick in fairly quickly after the card is bought – although some providers do wait a year before beginning to charge. The safest course of action, then, is to spend the thing pretty quickly. 

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