Consumers warned to redeem gift vouchers without delay


CONSUMERS HAVE been warned to redeem gift vouchers as soon as possible because they will be left with very little if retailers go out of business.

The National Consumer Agency said it was renewing its appeal to consumers to be aware of risks associated with gift vouchers, and to spend them quickly.

The NCA was responding after The Irish Timeswas contacted by a customer who sought to redeem a book voucher at a Hughes & Hughes outlet at Dublin airport after the bookshop chain went into receivership last week.

Terry O’Connor said he bought a book for his 15-year-old son Alan at a Hughes & Hughes in Swords before Christmas for €14.

His son decided against keeping the book and returned it to the store, where he was given a voucher for the same amount.

When Mr O’Connor went to the Hughes & Hughes branch in Dublin airport this week he was told they would no longer accept book tokens. He said he believed it amounted to “reckless trading” that Hughes & Hughes was selling and giving out book tokens at a time when management must have known the chain was in trouble financially. “People are not going to accept gift vouchers in the future if this kind of behaviour carries on,” he said.

The NCA issued an appeal before Christmas to consumers about the danger of not redeeming gift vouchers. Since then a number of high-profile retailers, including Hughes & Hughes and the clothes chain Adams, have closed or are in danger of closing.

NCA director of policy analysis and communications Maria Hurley said a company which goes into receivership does not have to honour gift vouchers, even if stores are still open. After a receiver is appointed, he or she is responsible for all subsequent decisions affecting the business, including whether gift vouchers are honoured, she explained.

Customers with gift vouchers could end up as unsecured creditors, with little chance of getting money back. She said the NCA “warns consumers purchasing gift vouchers to be conscious of the risks where the retailer issuing them may be in trading difficulty, and to check expiry dates carefully”.

Consumer Association of Ireland (CAI) chief executive Dermott Jewell said it was “not acceptable” for Hughes Hughes not to redeem the book token while branches were still open. “The consumer holding the voucher would have a contract with that company as long as it is still trading.”

No one from Hughes & Hughes receiver Deloitte was available for comment. Mr O’Connor said Deloitte told him that book token holders were unsecured creditors.