Why gift vouchers and cards make bad Christmas presents

Why gift vouchers and cards make bad Christmas presents

Gift vouchers and cards are a tried and tested present for those friends and family that are tough to buy for. But in the current climate, they aren't so smart.

lovemoney staff

Household money

lovemoney staff
Updated on 9 December 2015

Back in the day gift vouchers were the fallback option for present-buyers everywhere. If you didn't know what to get a troublesome teenager or the man who has everything, gift vouchers (or their more recent cousins, gift cards) presented a more socially acceptable solution to cash. But are they such a good idea these days?

In short, no.

The past few years have seen numerous high street retailers go bust, and that's caused a problem for people with outstanding gift vouchers. If the retailer goes bust, gift cards and vouchers for that company are likely to be worthless. The recipient will be unable to spend the voucher and the buyer will be unlikely to get their money back.

In theory, voucher holders could lodge a claim with the administrators, but they would be well down the list of creditors.

Changing the rules

[SPOTLIGHT]Even where a troubled firm is taken over, or holding a final clearout sale, changes to terms and conditions can make gift cards and vouchers difficult to use.

For example when women’s clothes store Jane Norman first went bust in 2011, the administrators changed the terms and conditions on gift cards for the store. The new rules meant people could only spend the cards on full price items, and the total spend had to be twice the value of the gift voucher.

Similarly when Borders went under in 2009, customers had to match their voucher by spending the same amount on top in order to use their voucher in the store’s final sales. So if you had a £20 voucher you had to spend another £20 of your own money on top, just to use it.

And when Zavvi went bust several years ago administrators simply refused to honour gift vouchers in the final 'clearout' sales.

Unfortunately, although it might not seem fair, retailers are within their rights to do this. Under insolvency law, the terms and conditions of gift cards can be revised when a company goes into administration.

Compare credit cards with loveMONEY

Other small print

Retailers going bust aren’t the only thing you have to worry about when it comes to gift vouchers. If you can’t see an expiry date on any gift voucher or gift card you buy, don’t assume that means it doesn’t expire. Some are valid forever, but not all.

Ticketmaster gift cards, for example, expire after one year while Marks & Spencer gift cards are valid for two years.

So check the terms and conditions if you’re buying vouchers for other people and make sure the recipient is aware of them.

Surprisingly some stores don’t let you use gift vouchers or cards online. 

Newly-weds often have issues with vouchers too. In some cases, if a pre-selected gift isn’t available a store will give the couple vouchers instead, but limit what these can be spent on.

Take precautions

If you’re thinking of buying gift vouchers and cards for someone else, or putting them on your own Christmas list, you should double-check the security of the retailer first. A quick search online will give you a clue as to how a company’s doing. Any profit warnings or reports of debt refinancing should set the alarm bells ringing.

Also, check if there are hordes of other customers complaining about non-delivery – that’s not a good sign.

If you’re spending more than £100 on the gift vouchers, then using a credit card for the payment may give you extra protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

Under this protection, a credit card company is jointly liable if something goes wrong, so it may reimburse you the cost. However, this protection isn’t definite as each administration is different and it’s unclear as to whether this law will apply.

This is a classic loveMONEY article that has been updated

Compare credit cards with loveMONEY

Most Recent