Gift cards and vouchers have long been thought of as a perfect alternative for a gift when you’re not sure what to buy, or have been accepted as a reasonable offer of recompense for a poor customer experience. The rise of websites that offer vouchers for you to ‘use’ on experiences of your choice has also piqued the imagination, with the ability to pay upfront for something you can use at a later date as something to look forward to.
But the past year has meant many complications – with administrations among retailers making vouchers unusable and closures of hundreds of outlets and service providers at points of 2020 and this year meaning that vouchers simply could not be used.
And the ability to offer vouchers digitally through ‘codes’ has meant a faceless currency that not all of us can rely on to either work or even arrive.
Resolver’s annual data has shown just how prolific issues around using, or even receiving, vouchers have become. We saw a record yearly number of complaints made about gift vouchers from shops and websites throughout 2020/21, with volumes hitting almost 13,500, a rise of 53% on the previous year.
But alongside the 13,446 complaints about gift cards and vouchers made to shops and marketplaces or websites that offer deals for experiences such as eating out, spa days and fitness sessions, Resolver saw more than 15,000 cases across many services in the travel sector, including flights, travel agents, holiday parks and hotels, specifically referencing vouchers – typically those issued as an alternative to a refund for cancelled travel plans.
We expect this to continue as this year progresses.
Shops and marketplaces
More than 3,000 complaints about gift vouchers were about delivery, mainly due to them not being received, while payment issues, including actually being able to use them accounted for almost a third.
There were examples of invalid voucher codes, vouchers disappearing after other payment issues or online connection problems got in the way, and even customers trying to use vouchers only to be told they had already been applied.
Common examples of other complaints about gift cards and vouchers made over the past year included:
Vouchers for travel and holidays
Vouchers have become a mainstay for many would-be holidaymakers as an alternative to a refund. In the main, vouchers were accepted by consumers voluntarily, though some reported feeling pressured into doing so or not being made aware that they could obtain a refund if their holiday or flight was cancelled.
However, the willingness of many to accept a voucher so they could rebook when there was more certainty has made the issues Resolver has seen more concerning. We predict that we will see complaints about travel vouchers rise significantly in the year ahead, eclipsing issues around getting refunds in the first place.
Examples of common complaints seen by Resolver include voucher codes not being accepted or recognised, vouchers not being received despite repeated contact to try and track them down and vouchers expiring before they could be used with no extension offered.
We also saw complaints concerning:
But there were also worrying complaints from consumers who were issued a voucher for a cancellation, despite them being entitled to or asking for a refund. Some were refused a refund outright, but others were simply issued a voucher automatically. There were also incidents of claims from companies that the customer had ‘selected’ a voucher instead of a refund when this had not been the case.
Your rights: vouchers
If you have a retail voucher that you suspect may become unusable because the retailer has entered administration or has been sold, then the rule of thumb is to spend it before it runs out.
However, if you have a voucher that is no longer valid, it’s likely that there is little you can do. Don’t just discard them however – sometimes retailers are bought by other firms and vouchers can become valid again.
If you’re one of the many who has accepted a voucher instead of a refund for cancelled travel plans, then contact your provider immediately if you are experiencing an issue. It’s become well known that some have become unfairly difficult, but stick to your guns, particularly in the wake of new warnings to packaged travel operators issued by the Competition & Markets Authority that make it clear that they need to respect travellers’ refund rights.
In most situations concerning vouchers, you can also try claiming under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if you paid for the original retail vouchers (or holiday) with a credit card and the total is more than £100. This means that you can claim a refund through your credit card provider.
Find out what you can do if you have an issue with a voucher you can’t use, if you have requested one but it hasn’t turned up or if you are having issues with expiry dates.