Gift card expiry warning as Covid lockdowns bite Australians

Lucy thought she had found the perfect gift idea, but ended up throwing $150 down the drain after getting bitten by a common trap.

When Lucy* bought a gift voucher for a friend for the shop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Sydney, she thought she would find the perfect gift idea.

But there was only one problem – the purchase coincided with the Covid pandemic and the long lockdowns that followed, and by the time Sydney reopened again the store had closed.

Lucy contacted the US-based parent store and was told the voucher could be redeemed there, but high shipping costs meant almost the full $150 value would be swallowed up by freight alone.

“Because the store still existed and they had honored the value of their voucher, there was nothing I could do,” she said.

“It’s $150 I’ll never see again.”

Sadly, Lucy is just one of countless Aussies to be bitten by gift card issues, which have become even more common during the pandemic.

In fact, gift card expiration dates have become such a mess for Australians that in 2019 Australian consumer law was amended to require that most gift cards or vouchers be sold with a Mandatory minimum expiry period of three years.

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The amendment was desperately needed, with a search by comparison site Finder from December 2021 revealing the average Aussie had $95 in gift vouchers languishing in the drawers – the equivalent of a huge $1.8 national outlay billion dollars.

An ACCC spokeswoman told news.com.au that there are a number of requirements under Australian consumer law regarding the provision of gift cards.

There are a few exceptions to these requirements, but as a general rule, gift cards must now have a minimum expiry period of three years, must clearly display the expiry date, and must not include an after-provision fee.

“The ACCC expects all businesses to adhere to and extend gift card expiration dates to cover any period the card could not be used due to business closure” , said the spokeswoman.

“During the Covid-19 shutdowns, many businesses were able to trade to some extent, so in many cases consumers could still use their gift card or voucher even though physical stores in the business were closed.

“However, if consumers were unable to redeem a gift card or voucher due to business requirements – for example, that the gift card could only be used for purchases at a store physical, even if the company only traded online during the Covid-19 restrictions – the ACCC expects the company to provide consumers holding gift cards with some form of recourse.

The spokeswoman said if a business has become insolvent, consumers holding gift cards will generally become unsecured creditors.

“What consumers are entitled to in these circumstances will depend on the administrative process,” she said.

“If a consumer is unable to resolve a problem with a gift card from a retailer, they should contact their state or territory’s fair trade agency, who may be able to assist them in their dispute.

“Consumers can also report their concern to the ACCC.”

Sarah Megginson, money editor at Finder, told news.com.au there was only limited wiggle room for those affected by the Covid lockdowns.

“If the business was still in operation during the pandemic to some degree, they might argue that it was possible to redeem the voucher online if they have a digital storefront,” she explained, and said. encouraged consumers who were unsure to contact the retailer for clarification. .

“Despite extended deadlines, gift cards can be easily forgotten if they’re buried in a drawer or wallet,” Ms Megginson said.

“Keep your cards and credits in one place so they don’t get lost. This will make it easier for you to find them when you need them.

“Setting a reminder on your phone before the expiration date will also help make sure you don’t forget to use them.”

*Name has been changed

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