What are my rights with gift cards and gift vouchers?

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Gift cards and vouchers can be a convenient way of giving a present to someone if you’re not sure what to get them. However, you can lose money with them. Read about gift cards and gift vouchers – your rights

News update: HMV

HMV went into administration on 28th December. The administrators have said they will keep all 125 HMV stores open while they try and find a buyer, and they will accept gift cards while the stores are still open. So, if you have any HMV gift cards, spend them while you can.

Q. What are my rights with gift cards and gift vouchers?

A. If you give someone a gift card, they are able to use it in the shop or chain of shops that issued it. In some cases, gift cards are accepted by a range of different retailers. However, you may have less protection by giving a gift card than you expect. For a start, if the gift card has an expiry date, it is worthless after that. Any money that is loaded onto the card is lost. The other is that if the retailer goes bust you may well not get back the value of the card.

Q. What happens if the gift card is lost or stolen?

A. If the gift card is lost or stolen, you’ve generally lost your money if you haven’t registered your card. However,  you may be able to get your money back even if you haven’t registered your card. If you know the number that’s on the card and contact the retailer’s customer services, they may be able to cancel the card for you and issue a new one.

SAVVY TIP: Unless you’ve registered your gift card or you’ve written down the number somewhere, the retailer won’t know who has which card. It doesn’t have a central database of who owns which card, because the person buying the gift card isn’t usually the person who ends up owning it.

Q. Do all gift cards or vouchers have an expiry date?

A. Paper gift vouchers (remember them?) may not have an expiry date, but plastic gift cards do tend to. This can range from 12 months from the last time the card was used to ten years or more. Many retailers have an expiry date of 24 months, either from the date of purchase/activation or from when the card was last used (see my list of what selected retailers do – below).

If the gift card expires, you’ll have lost the value of any money still left on the card.

SAVVY TIP: Gift cards for experiences tend to have shorter expiry date because the cost of the experience may rise in the meantime.

Q. Can I sell an unused gift card?

A. Yes, there are a number of websites, including Zeek and Card Yard. As I write this, both get a reasonable rating on TrustPilot, but this may change. You can see Zeek’s TrustPilot rating here and CardYard’s Trustpilot rating here. You won’t get the full price for the gift card and commission rates vary. You can also sell unwanted gift cards on generic resale sites such as eBay and Gumtree.

Q. I’ve been given a gift card and it has an inactivity fee. Can they charge this?

A. As long as the fees are spelled out clearly, I’m not aware that inactivity fees are illegal. However, I don’t think companies should impose them. I know that the ‘One4All’ card has an inactivity fee of 90 pence per month if the card hasn’t been used for 18 months. There may be others with a similar pricing policy.

Q. What happens if the retailer I’ve got a gift card for goes into administration?

A. In general terms, it’s likely that your gift card will be worthless if the retailer you can use the card in has gone bust. However, this is a complex area and it’s down to the insolvency practitioners as to whether gift cards will be honoured. In some cases they may be able to be used if the retailer continues trading while in administration, in others they can only be redeemed for a percentage of their value and some insolvency practitioners don’t accept them at all.

Q. Can I make a claim against my credit card company if I’ve bought a gift card and the retailer has gone bust?

A. You may be able to make a claim against your credit card company (ie the bank or credit card company that issued the card, not necessarily the brand behind it, such as Visa or MasterCard) if you bought the gift card using your credit (or Visa debit) card. There are two ways you may be able to get a refund from your credit card provider, but you’re not guaranteed to succeed with either of them.

  • Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Here your credit card company is equally liable if the goods you’ve ordered don’t arrive or aren’t as described. Section 75 only applies if the goods you’re buying cost more than £100 and less than £30,000. Find out more in my guide: Understanding your credit card rights under Section 75.
  • Chargeback. If you’ve bought a gift card or cards costing less than £100 or you’ve paid with a debit card, you may be able to get the card company to do a ‘chargeback’, which means that they effectively reverse the transaction. Chargeback is a scheme that credit card companies have signed up to, rather than your right in law, so different card issuing companies don’t necessarily treat chargeback requests in the same way. However, it’s definitely worth trying.

SAVVY TIP: With chargeback, there’s no lower limit on how much you have to spend to qualify but there are time limits which vary according to whether it’s a Visa or Mastercard scheme. It can be from 45 days to 180 days from when you bought the gift card.

What some of the big retailers do
Amazon gift cards and gift certificates: expire ten years after the date of issue, unless they were purchased before July 1st 2013, when they expire one year after the date of issue

Arcadia gift cards: these can be redeemed in Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Topshop, Topman and Wallis stores. The cards expire 24 months after purchase or last transaction.

SAVVY TIP: These cards can’t be replaced if they’ve been lost or stolen and they can’t be used in concessions within Arcadia stores.

Argos gift cards can be spent in a shop and online, unless they don’t have a PIN, in which case they can only be used in a store. These cards generally have an expiry date which is on the back of the card, or can be seen when you log in.

Boots gift cards expire after 24 months from the last use and can be used in Boots stores. Online vouchers have no expiry date.

Debenhams gift cards expire 24 months after the last use or checking the balance. The cards can be used online or in Debenhams stores.

SAVVY TIP: With Debenhams, the last ‘use’ includes checking your balance. You don’t have to spend money or top up your card for it to reset the 24-month expiry ‘clock’ – checking the balance will do this.


John Lewis gift cards have an expiry date of 24 months from the last use (which includes checking the balance) and can be spent online, and at all John Lewis and Waitrose stores.

SAVVY TIP: John Lewis used to issue paper vouchers, which have no expiry date.

Marks and Spencer gift cards are valid for 24 months from the last time you used it or checked your balance. They can be used online and in store.

Next gift card: the card expires 24 months after the last time you used it, which means spending money on it or checking your balance. It can be used in stores and online.

Selfridges gift card do not have an expiry date and cannot be used for telephone or mail order.

Related articles:

What are your rights if a shop or online retailer you’ve ordered goods from goes bust?

Your rights if you’re shopping for clothes in the sales – what to do if there’s a problem

Paying by online or phone payment – are you protected if there’s a problem?

Faulty goods – there are new consumer rights from October 1st 2015

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Photo credit: Morguefile/cohdra