Gift voucher proposals not worth the effort – New Consumer Protection Legislation (2 of 5)

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has proposed some useless changes to consumer legislation around vouchersIn my summary blog post recently (Consumer Protection Legislation – some good but some pointless changes proposed) about the May 2015 announcement of some extensive changes to consumer rights legislation announced by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Richard Bruton, TD, I noted that I expected that the greatest impact for consumers would be those impacting gift vouchers and the 30 day refund period for faulty products.

And not by accident, those changes would likely have the biggest impact on retailers, endangering their enactment at all.

30 Day Refund

For me, of most interest proposal which will provide for a standard 30 day period in which consumers can return faulty goods and get a full refund. This would be huge for consumers if it was to be enacted – the current hazy legislation regarding “refund, repair, replace” which leaves it down to the retailer to decide which remedy to apply, and over an undetermined time period, is probably one of the biggest bugbears and cause for confusion among consumers.

It will be interesting to see if this does go through as it likely to be rigorously opposed by retailers who hide behind the existing repair / replace options within consumer legislation to ensure they never have to return money to consumers for crappy products.

It is likely also to generate some comic conversations where within 30 days of purchase, retailers will try to justify how a clearly broken product is in fact operating exactly as it should.

Your smartphone won’t connect to the mobile network? Well, that’s the new thing – this is actually really supposed to be viewed as a Wi-Fi phone. Yes, that’s right, there are the Wi-Fi tablets already, so obviously the next step is Wi-Fi phones.

Developments and progress towards implementing the proposals here, and whether or not they’ll eventually be watered down before passing into law, will be worth monitoring.

Rights by Proxy

The new proposals includes somewhat innovative clause that would allow consumers who receive products or services as a gift be entitled to the same rights as if they bought the product or service themselves.

When I say innovative, maybe I should have said “makey uppey”. I’ve no legal background but I’m not sure that creating such a right by proxy would be very easily achieved.

More importantly, I’m not sure we really need such a new right to be provided to gift recipients. Existing consumer rights can handle such scenarios perfectly well without providing such rights by proxy.

Gift Voucher Changes

As I mentioned in my original blog post, I think these are mainly included in the proposals for their headline grabbing capacity, and the proposal is largely futile in its wish to ban expiry dates for gift cards and vouchers.

Regular readers here will know that I’m not a fan of gift cards and vouchers. You can read here my thoughts on why you should avoid gifts vouchers and instead, gifts could and should be much better thought out rather than plumping for the gift voucher catch-all.

I accept that, yes, this new legislation will remove the danger of voucher expiry from that list of dangers, but many other will still remain – and many cannot be mitigated through legislation.

Buyer should still always beware

The Irish Examiner Survey Says 46% of consumers don't check voucher termsAs in most things, the first line of protection for the consumer is the consumer themselves – which was always the case anyway when it came to expired vouchers. This article from the Irish Examiner [Survey: 46% do not check gift card conditions] highlights research carried out on behalf of the National Consumer Agency (NCA) [now the Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (CPCC)] which indicates that almost half of people receiving vouchers or gift cards as Christmas presents do not check the conditions of use.

Worse, consumers in many cases won’t even use their gift vouchers, never mind read the terms and conditions. According to estimates in this US article [1$billion in gift cards goes unredeemed], at least in 2007 up to 10% of all gift vouchers purchased were never redeemed. Whereas this article [Half of us have left gift vouchers expire] tells us that further National Consumer Agency (NCA) research has found that 48% of Irish people let gift vouchers and cards expire.

If consumers in general were to read the terms and conditions of their vouchers, and were to actually follow up and spend those vouchers in a timely manner, then we’d have no need for this legislation. In fact, in this view, even the vice-chairman of the Consumers Association of Ireland (Mr. Michael Kilcoyne) and myself are in agreement. In a recent article, Mr. Kilcoyne is quoted as saying:

But all the legislation in the world is no use if we, as consumers, don’t shop around and get the best deal for ourselves.

Rare wise and useful words. Next up, I’ll write a little more on what I think would be potentially the most beneficial proposal for Irish consumers – the automatic right to a refund within 30 days of purchase for faulty products.

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