Bill obliges airlines to take vouchers where name differs from passport

Gift vouchers that used person’s familiar name have often been refused by airlines

The Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill places a minimum five-year expiry date on gift vouchers. Photograph: iStock

The Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill places a minimum five-year expiry date on gift vouchers. Photograph: iStock

 

All airlines will in future have to honour gift vouchers where the name of the recipient is spelt differently from the name on their passport under the provisions of new legislation in the Dáil.

The Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill places a minimum five-year expiry date on gift vouchers, changing a practice where they lasted for as little as six months or in some cases up to 10 years.

In an apparent reference to Ryanair, which he did not name, Minister of State John Halligan, who introduced the Bill, highlighted the practice where an airline refuses to honour vouchers where the name of recipients on the voucher is different from on their passports, a practice he described as “manifestly unfair”.

Mr Halligan cited an example in the consultation process on the legislation where a person on a fixed income could not use a €200 airline gift voucher to book flights because the family member who bought the voucher used the person’s familiar name.

This was different from the name on their passport and the airline refused to honour it. Appeals proved unsuccessful.

Restriction

Mr Halligan said Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys believed “this type of restriction is manifestly unfair and she is glad to have the opportunity to address it”.

Mr Halligan said consumers spend some €600 million every year on vouchers and an estimated 25 per cent to 50 per cent of such gifts were not redeemed.

He said expiry dates varied from as little as six months up to 10 years, with larger retailers typically offering a two-year deadline. He added that in the travel and hospitality sector a one-year expiry date was common.

The Minister said representative bodies for retailers recognised that five years was a reasonable timeframe and “these views reflect the fact that responsible business want to treat customers fairly”.

He added that “some though not all business will honour vouchers after the expiry date”.

‘Certainty’

The legislation “is about giving certainty to people,” he said as he pointed to the US where the minimum deadline is at least five years and a number of US states have put a complete ban on expiry dates as have some provinces in Canada.

Mr Halligan said the Bill will also oblige traders to either refund the remainder of a voucher where the full amount is not used or issue a new voucher. If a consumer had a €100 restaurant voucher and spent €75 the restaurateur must either refund the €25 or issue a new voucher for that amount.

He acknowledged that there were legal difficulties in relation to fees charged that varied from €1.40 to €3.50 a month for cards which are not used. “The Government believes this is an expiry date by another route,” he said.

But he said traders said there were costs involved that necessitated the inclusion of fees.

There was a legal issue that the Minister could be infringing on regulatory regime of electronic monetary products.

A review is underway and the Minister has omitted regulation in the Bill until the review is complete and proposes to deal with it at a later stage in the legislation, Mr Halligan said.

Fianna Fáil enterprise spokesman Billy Kelleher said that some companies do everything in their power not to honour a voucher.

But on the other hand the Government “can be overzealous in regulation”. He said that whatever is implemented must be in accordance with best practice and ensure that consumers are fully aware of the terms and conditions when they are buying the voucher.

Debate on the Bill continues.