Very often when we need to buy gifts and we do not have time to shop around or do not have a clue what to buy, we go for gift vouchers, leaving it up to the receivers of the gifts to choose what they want. To avoid wasting our money on unusable gift vouchers, we need to be aware of our rights and responsibilities before purchasing such products.

Gift vouchers come with terms and conditions of use. It is therefore in our best interest to know what these are before buying a gift voucher.

Gift vouchers have an expiry date. When this is the case, it should be clearly written on the voucher. As buyers of these type of products, we should ensure that the person we are giving the voucher to has enough time to use it. Hence, the longer the expiry date, the better.

When we are the receivers of vouchers, it is our responsibility to ensure that vouchers don’t expire before we decide to use them. If we do, the seller is not obliged to let us use the expired voucher. If there is nothing in the shop we would like to use the voucher on before it expires, we can try asking the seller to extend it. This should be done before the voucher expires, because if the request is denied by the seller, we still have the possibility to use the voucher before it expires.

Gift vouchers come with terms and conditions of use

It is always in our best interest to use vouchers as quickly as possible. This will avoid the problem of ending up with outdated vouchers and situations where a business either changes owner or closes down. Unused vouchers might also get lost and if this happens the retailer is not obliged to replace it. Unless the gift voucher is personalised, losing it is like losing cash. If, however, the voucher is written out in our name, the seller may be able to cancel the original voucher and issue a new one.

When purchasing gift vouchers we should also check how these can be used. This is especially the case when gift vouchers are of certain value. It is important to ensure that the voucher does not need to be used at one go but on more than one purchase.

When vouchers need to be used on the same purchase, it is advisable not to spend a large sum of money on one voucher but instead buy a number of vouchers of different values.

Before buying a voucher, we should also check where the voucher can be used. It is best to choose vouchers that can be used in a chain of shops or a shopping centre. If a voucher can only be used in one shop, then we will need to ensure that the person who will be using it can find something to purchase and use the voucher on.

The terms and conditions of use should be clearly written on the voucher, so the receiver is well informed on how to use it. These also bind the seller and hence cannot be changed or amended after a voucher is purchased. If the seller tries to impose new conditions, we are not legally bound by them.

In case of a dispute, we can seek redress through the Office for Consumer Affairs within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

Odette Vella is director, Information and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt

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