When we receive a voucher as a gift, the first thing we should look out for is the expiry date.
While some vouchers do not expire, most have a use-by date. We should make sure that we make use of such vouchers before they expire. If we think we may not be able to use the voucher before its expiry date, we should try asking the seller for an extension. However, the seller is not obliged to accept our request.
Gift vouchers may also have terms and conditions that tell us how we can use the voucher, such as whether we must use the total value of the voucher in one purchase or if we can split it on several ones. There may also be restrictions on the type of products the voucher may be used on or, in case of a chain of shops, in which outlets it can be used.
We should keep in mind that shops do go out of business. Hence, even if we happen to have a voucher that does not expire, it is still in our best interest to try to use it as quickly as possible. When shops close down, any unused vouchers become worthless.
Another possible risk is that of losing the voucher. If this happens, the seller is not obliged to replace it, unless the lost voucher was personalised and non-transferable. In such cases, the trader is likely to have a record of the voucher and may be willing to cancel the original voucher and issue another one.
While the terms and conditions of use of gift vouchers may be decided by the seller issuing the voucher, we should not forget that once a gift voucher is purchased its terms and conditions can no longer be altered. Hence a seller cannot decide to put an expiry date on gift vouchers sold without such a date.
If we find ourselves in a situation where the seller of the gift voucher does not honour its terms and conditions or tries to impose new conditions on its use, we should remember that we have legal rights and may insist with the seller on having the original conditions of the voucher honoured. In case of a dispute, we may seek the assistance of the Office for Consumer Affairs within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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