Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Consumer Protection Act 2007 to provide for specified regulations relating to gift vouchers and for related matters.

The Bill has been specifically designed to enhance consumer protection and consumer rights in an area that is completely unregulated. The Bill is pro-consumer and deals with an issue on which Fianna Fáil has campaigned for a number of years. I have raised it with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation at Question Time in the Chamber. We have also raised it by way of parliamentary questions. The area of gift vouchers and gift cards is completely unregulated. The Bill is opportune because at this time of year, as we approach Christmas, there is a significant consumer spend on gift cards and gift vouchers.

That spend is estimated at €300 million. What is of concern to nearly all consumers is the fact that many of these gift vouchers have vague, if any, terms and conditions according to which they can be presented in exchange for goods and services. The main issue arising relates to the validity period during which they can be redeemed. The lack of regulation in this area impacts disproportionately on children, many of whom receive vouchers at birthdays and other times of celebration, including first communion and confirmation, as well as at Christmas. To be fair, many retailers are flexible, honourable and decent as to how they approach vouchers when they are presented. However, it has been a failing of this and previous Governments not to have enacted proper consumer protection legislation. While a consumer rights Bill was produced in 2015, it has remained in limbo.

The Bill before the House proposes new provisions to regulate the sale of gift vouchers and the contracts for their supply by way of amendment of the Consumer Protection Act 2007. For the first time, the Bill sets out a definition of "gift voucher" which will cover all forms of voucher out there, namely, electronic, card, written certificate, etc. The Bill also proposes to provide for an expiry period of not less than five years. In other words, all gift vouchers would remain valid for a period of five years. This is the position in other jurisdictions internationally. The Bill seeks to impose on traders an obligation to inform the consumer of any fees associated with the sale of the voucher. When the person buys the voucher, he or she will know if any fee or commission is to be paid in relation to it. We are offering the legislation to the House. It is timely in the run-up to the Christmas period and we hope to advance it on Second Stage as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.