Fianna Fáil supports the general principles of the Bill and it will examine potential amendments if necessitated. It is something we are discussing at the moment.
The Bill aims to strengthen consumer protections relating to the sale and use of gift vouchers, with the market largely unregulated in Ireland. Fianna Fáil has led the way in the Oireachtas on enhancing consumer safeguards via the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill 2017. A Fianna Fáil Bill to regulate gift vouchers with a minimum five-year expiry date passed the Dáil unanimously last June on Second Stage while pre-legislative scrutiny took place last October. However, mysteriously, the Government has refused to grant a money message to advance our Bill to Committee Stage over the past five months and instead, in a cynical turn, has decided to rush forward its own proposal in an attempt to cover up its tardiness in legislating for consumers in this area.
Successive Fine Gael-led Governments have sat on a 2015 consumer rights Bill to regulate gift vouchers, citing EU legislation coming down the road, which would have primacy over domestic legislation as the reason for not proceeding. However, the goalposts have been changed and this excuse is seemingly no longer applicable as the Government tried to fast-track its Bill. This approach to legislation knows no bounds as public relations trump substance at every occasion, something that permeates from the Taoiseach down.
The Bill, on Second Stage today, includes a five-year minimum expiry date. It also prohibits the following two unfair terms for the sale of gift vouchers. This applies to traders who require vouchers to be expended in full in a single transaction and the requirement to pay a fee to amend the name of the gift voucher recipient.
Section 1 provides for the definition of the principal Act.
Section 2 provides for the introduction of a minimum five-year expiry period for gift vouchers. In addition, it provides that traders must inform consumers of the expiry date. Two unfair terms are to be prohibited. The first is where traders require gift vouchers to be spent in full in a single transaction. The second provides for a prohibition on the requirement to pay a fee to amend the name of the recipient on that gift voucher. The section also provides for offence provisions for contraventions of the section.
Section 3 provides for consequential amendments to the Consumer Protection Act 2007.
Section 4 provides for the Short Title as well as the collective citation and commencement.
We are told there will be a modest cost to the Exchequer arising from the additional enforcement activity that will be undertaken by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC. Gift vouchers and gift cards currently remain unregulated in this country. A survey carried out in 2013, undertaken for the National Consumer Agency, NCA, found that 80% of people had purchased gift vouchers at some point. Estimates suggest that between 1% and 2% of gift vouchers redeemable in many outlets go unredeemed. I am culpable of that myself. Some 8% to 10% of gift vouchers that are redeemable in a single retailer or service provider may not be redeemed. However, consumers receiving the gift vouchers are often left unaware of the terms and conditions that apply. Specifically, the time that vouchers remain valid can vary and, as a result, consumers are left short-changed when they go to redeem them. Some retailers are more flexible than others but they currently have the right to refuse to honour the voucher outside the defined period. This Bill provides for new provisions in regulating the sale of gift vouchers and the contracts for their supply by amending the Consumer Protection Act 2007; establishes a definition for gift vouchers; and proposes that there can be no expiry date on gift vouchers which is not less than a five-year period and all gift vouchers would remain valid for five years. This five-year expiry date has been deployed in other jurisdictions to good effect.
I have experience of many small shops and stores particularly in my own region. In an awful lot of cases, even though they do not have to do it now, shop owners will put an expiry date on a voucher. In most circumstances, local shops or stores are reasonable and, if the consumer is a few months outside the expiry date, they are more than willing to accommodate them. Sometimes the larger stores are not as easy to deal with and they can certainly be problematic.
We must also understand that businesses have concerns about this legislation and I acknowledge that.