I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Bill proposes to amend the Consumer Protection Act 2007 to provide additional protections for consumers who receive gift vouchers. Very few people have not given or received a gift voucher at some point. Industry estimates suggest the annual value of gift vouchers sales is approximately €600 million. A survey undertaken for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in 2014 found that 41% of consumers surveyed had purchased a gift voucher in the previous 12 months. It is clear, therefore, that the appropriate regulation of gift vouchers is an issue which impacts a significant number of people. However, at present, there is no specific legislation dealing with gift vouchers.
The Bill proposes that gift vouchers must have an expiry date of not less than five years from the date on which the voucher was issued. A trader who supplies a gift voucher must also provide information on its expiry date on a durable medium such as paper or email. Currently, expiry dates for gift vouchers can vary widely from as little as six months up to ten years. In the retail sector, expiry dates for vouchers issued by large retailers are typically for two years from either the date of purchase or of last use. In the hospitality and travel sectors, an expiry date of one year is common.
Research undertaken in 2013 and 2014 by the then National Consumer Agency found that between a quarter to a half of consumers had let a gift voucher expire at some point without using it. In some cases, this happened because the voucher was lost or forgotten about. In other cases, however, consumers found themselves unable to use a gift voucher because it had expired before they went to redeem it. It is entirely wrong that consumers should find themselves unable to use a gift voucher because of an unreasonably restrictive expiry date imposed by the business that issued the voucher. The five-year minimum term for gift vouchers provided for in the Bill strikes a fair balance between the right of consumers to get what they or someone close to them have paid for along with the need of businesses for commercial certainty.
The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, noted that Retail Ireland, which represents retailers with over 3,000 outlets, in its response to her Department’s public consultation of July 2018 on gift vouchers, stated it was not opposed to the proposed five-year term for gift vouchers. Chambers Ireland, which represents 43 affiliated chambers, indicated five years was a reasonable minimum term for gift vouchers. The Minister believes these views reflect the fact that responsible businesses want to treat consumers fairly and to retain their goodwill. The Minister is aware that some, although not all, businesses will in fact honour gift vouchers which are tendered after the expiry date. Many Deputies are aware of cases where local businesses have honoured vouchers after the expiry date. This shows a loyalty to the customer which is to be commended.
The Bill is about giving certainty to people that their voucher will, at a minimum, be valid for five years. In the United States, gift vouchers must be valid for at least five years under federal law. Several US states provide for a complete ban on expiry dates, as do several provinces in Canada. The Bill includes provisions that address certain unfair practices which were brought to the Department’s attention in consumer responses to its public consultation on gift vouchers.
The first of these provisions deals with gift vouchers which require the full value of the voucher to be redeemed in a single transaction. While this is not a widespread practice, the Minister is aware of several cases where traders impose such a requirement. There is no justification for such an unfair and anti-consumer practice. Accordingly, the Bill prohibits this practice. It provides that where a consumer redeems only part of the value of a voucher and the remaining balance is greater than €1, the trader must reimburse the remaining balance by way of cash or another gift voucher. For example, if a customer has a restaurant voucher for €100 and the cost of a meal comes to €75, the restaurant must give the customer the remaining balance of €25. The restaurant cannot make the customer use the full voucher in one single transaction or risk losing the balance.
The second provision seeks to address cases where the purchaser of a voucher is required to indicate the name of the intended recipient. If the name of the recipient on the voucher differs from the recipient’s name as stated, for example, on their passport, the recipient may be precluded from using the voucher. For example, the Department recently received a representation from a retired person on a fixed income who has been unable to use €200 worth of vouchers to book flights to visit family and friends in the UK because the family members who purchased the vouchers used the familiar name by which they knew the person rather than the name on the person’s passport. Appeals to the airline to reissue the voucher in the name stated on the passport have been unsuccessful.
In the Minister’s view, this type of restriction on the use of a voucher is manifestly unfair and she is glad to have the opportunity to tackle it.
The Bill provides accordingly that where a gift voucher is subject to a requirement that it be used by a named consumer, a trader shall not refuse to accept a gift voucher from a consumer other than the consumer named on the voucher. Additionally, the Bill provides that a trader cannot charge a fee for amending or changing the name of the consumer named on the voucher. The Minister believes the inclusion of these provisions in the Bill shows the value of the public consultation.
Since there is only one other Deputy in the House, I can cut and allow him to speak because he has come in. Would that be okay?