Hidden terms and conditions mean your Christmas gift card could soon be worthless

Hidden terms and conditions mean many gift cards can EXPIRE before we get round to using them.

Complaints are rising fast about confusing or restrictive terms and unclear expiry dates. And shoppers risk ending up with nothing if a retailer goes bust and refuses to honour card balances or exchange faulty items.

Of the £6billion we spend on gift cards each year, we lose £300million, says consumer group Fairer Finance.

And the UK Gift Card & Voucher Association reckons £5.40 in every £100 put on to cards is never spent.

Citizens Advice reported a 23 per cent increase in complaints related to gift cards last year, while consumer website Resolver had 2,387 issues regarding cards in the year to September 2018 — an annual hike of 19 per cent.

MoneySavingExpert’s Steve Nowottny says: “Buying someone a gift card for Christmas can be a risky business. If a store goes into administration, retailers can legally stop accepting gift cards, meaning you could lose your cash. Even when shops are doing fine, there are pitfalls. Many cards come with expiry dates so if you don’t use them in time, the cash is gone.”

Anyone given a gift card or voucher should check the expiry date and T&Cs. Often these are not on the card and must be tracked down on the store’s website.

Some stores sneakily start the clock ticking as soon as the card is bought.

If an organised shopper buys a Christmas gift card in October, say, the recipient could have nine months in which to spend it, not 12. JD Sports, Ticketmaster and Pandora all start the validity period of their cards from the moment they are purchased.

Other cards, including those from coffee chain Costa and cinema group Vue, are valid for 12 months after their last use. So the clock resets with each small spend or even when you check the balance.

Some stores have different terms depending on whether the gift card is physical or virtual. For example, Boots’ regular cards are valid for 24 months from when they were last used but its e-cards must be used within 12 months of purchase.

Argos has a three-year expiry date on its regular cards but for e-cards that is two years. And the One4All gift card sold in Post Offices for use in high street shops takes money off the balance if it is not spent within 18 months.

Its deduction of 90p a month means a £10 card would be worthless if not used within two years and five months of initial purchase.

Experience cards — for trips to the theatre, sports events and spa days, say — can have separate expiry dates for when a card must be activated and when the experience must take place.

Consumer group Which? warns shoppers to clarify terms with the gift card company if they have doubts. But not every card has Scrooge-like conditions.

Amazon lets its customers use their cards for up to ten years after purchase, while cards issued by Ikea, Starbucks and TK Maxx have no expiry dates.

If a company goes bust, however, expiry dates are the least of your worries. Stores in administration have no legal obligation to honour cards.

Earlier this year, House Of Fraser customers complained in droves when stores refused to accept gift cards after the company went into administration. Eventually customers were told they would get e-vouchers of the same value to shop online.

The collapses of bike shop Evans Cycles, Toys R Us and HMV left customers out of pocket in each case.

Consumer champions have slammed the lack of protection for consumers buying gift cards.

James Daley, of Fairer Finance, said: “The fact there is still no proper protection for consumers stands in stark contrast to the spirit in which gift cards are given.

“There’s no good reason why shops should be allowed to add expiry dates to gift cards.

“The value of the card is eroded by inflation every day a card goes unspent. And the likelihood of cards being used after a year is fairly low, as a significant number are lost or forgotten.

“But for those customers who find an unused card a few years after it was given to them, they should be able to use it and not be stopped by an arbitrary expiry date.”

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