Gift cards and vouchers

A gift card or voucher is a card loaded with an amount of cash that lets you, or the person you give it to, pay for goods and services.

They can’t usually be exchanged for cash unless there is a remaining amount on the card that the business believes can’t be conveniently used.

What you can expect

Businesses must clearly state all conditions and restrictions on how you can use gift cards and discount vouchers.

Under Australian Consumer Law, businesses must outline:

  • the conditions of gift card/voucher use, along with any restrictions
  • the expiry date (including the activation expiry date if the card needs to be activated before use)
  • any limitation on the number of transactions
  • whether or not the card can be topped up or reloaded with value.

Like most contracts, you might not be able to get a refund if you change your mind. However, if the voucher was misrepresented or conditions were not disclosed at the time of sale, you may receive reimbursement from the business.

If you purchased gift cards or vouchers over the phone, through a door-to-door salesperson or another unsolicited consumer agreement, they may be subject to a cooling-off period under Australian Consumer Law.

In March 2018, the law was amended to give consumers more rights. Since then, most gift cards and vouchers sold in NSW must also come with:

  • a minimum expiry period of three years
  • no fees charged after your purchase (excluding some processing of payment fees (eg overseas transaction fees, booking fees).

There are some exceptions, the main ones are if a gift card or voucher is:

  • given by a business for free, as part of a rewards program, or as a bonus when buying something
  • a prepaid card for phone or internet access, and ATM, debit, credit or charge cards
  • exchanged for goods returned to the supplier
  • sold for a particular good/service that is below the market value of that good/service (a genuine discount)
  • sold or donated for use in a fundraising appeal, including to a charity or not-for-profit organisation

Similar laws will now apply across Australia to gift cards supplied to consumers from 1 November 2019. These new laws apply under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

The national laws are very similar to the gift card laws in NSW, but they include that gift cards must also prominently display the expiry date as either the full date, or as a period of time.

If the expiry date is shown as a period of time, it must also include the date it was supplied to the customer, so you can determine the expiration date. For example: 'Gift cards expire 4 years from the issue date. Date of issue: March 2020'. If there is no expiry date, this must be stated on the gift card.

This display requirement does not apply to gift cards that are supplied as a second-hand good or to gift cards supplied to certain charities and government agencies.

More information on the ACL and the national gift card laws is available on the Consumer Law website.

Discount voucher schemes

Discount voucher schemes are when you buy a card or book of vouchers for a comparatively small fee and in doing so ‘unlock’ discounts and other offers for goods and/or services at participating businesses.

It’s advertised that you’ll save money with the vouchers, even after paying a small fee for the scheme. The amount you save will depend on how many of the discounts you use. This can be affected by several factors including:

  • the location of participating businesses
  • conditions on usage
  • discounts may only be provided in conjunction with the purchase of another product or service at the full price
  • the participating business closes or changes owners.

Some discount schemes are part of a larger sales recruitment scheme. These schemes should be closely examined to determine whether they are in breach of the pyramid sales provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1987.

Have a problem?

  1. Contact the business in the first instance and explain the problem. If the matter is complicated and not urgent, you could write an email or letter. We have tips and sample letters to help you.
  2. If you’re unable to resolve the matter with the business, you can contact us  on 13 32 20 or make a complaint online.

Be a savvy consumer

  • Check the expiry date when you receive a gift card - if it's not printed on the card, ask the sales attendant to write it on there.
  • Keep the receipt
  • Use the total amount - Aim to use the total value of the card by the expiry date because the remaining amount is usually not refundable. You can check the terms and conditions on the issuer's website or on the back of the card.
  • Treat gift cards like cash - If you lose it or it is stolen, in most cases you will not be able to replace it. However, some retailers may replace the gift card if you have the receipt and they can check it hasn’t been redeemed.
  • Getting 'change' may depend on the terms and conditions. If stated in the terms and conditions, the retailer is required to give you the rest of the money back in cash. If the terms and conditions do not state a cash back option for your change, the retailer can insist on leaving the remaining credit on the gift card or giving you a credit note instead.
  • Always read the terms and conditions before you buy into a discount voucher scheme. Review the discounts offered, you may only be able to get the discount if you buy:
    • from a specified business or location
    • another product/service from the business
    • at certain times or on certain days
    • before the offer expires or stock runs out.

Further information

Who enforces Australian Consumer Law?

The following agencies enforce provisions relating to consumer goods and services:

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is responsible for financial products and services.

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