Gift card expiry warning as Covid lockdowns sting Australians

Lucy thought she’d found the perfect gift idea – but she ended up throwing $150 down the drain after getting stung by a common trap.

When Lucy* bought a gift voucher for a friend for the Metropolitan Museum of Art store in Sydney, she thought she’d come up with the perfect present idea.

But there was just one problem – the purchase coincided with the Covid pandemic and subsequent lengthy lockdowns, and by the time Sydney reopened again, the store had closed.

Lucy contacted the US-based parent store and was told the voucher was able to be redeemed there, but pricey shipping fees meant almost the full $150 value would be swallowed by freight alone.

“Because the store still existed and they had honored their voucher value, there was nothing that I could do,” she said.

“That’s $150 I won’t ever see again.”

Unfortunately, Lucy is just one of countless Aussies to be stung by gift card issues, which have become even more common during the pandemic.

In fact, gift card expiration dates became such a mess for Australians that in 2019 the Australian Consumer Law was changed to require that most gift cards or vouchers be sold with a mandatory minimum expiry period of three years.

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The amendment was desperately needed, with research by comparison site Finder from December 2021 revealing the average Aussie had $95 in gift vouchers languishing in drawers – the equivalent of a whopping national outlay of $1.8 billion.

An ACCC spokeswoman told that there are a number of requirements under the Australian Consumer Law around the supply of gift cards.

There are some exceptions to these requirements, but generally gift cards should now have a minimum three year expiry period, should clearly display the expiry date, and should not include any post supply fees.

“The ACCC expects that all businesses should honor and extend gift card expiry dates to cover any period that the card was unable to be used due to the business’s closure,” the spokeswoman said.

“During the Covid-19 lockdowns, many businesses were able to trade in some capacity, so in many instances consumers were still be able to use their gift card or voucher even if the business’s physical stores were closed.

“However, if consumers were unable to use a gift card or voucher because of the requirements of the business – for example, that the gift card could only be used for purchases in a physical store even if the business was trading in an online capacity only during the Covid-19 restrictions – the ACCC expects the business to provide consumers holding gift cards with some form of remedy.”

The spokeswoman said that if a business has become insolvent, consumers holding gift cards will generally become unsecured creditors.

“What consumers are entitled to in these circumstances will depend on the administration process,” she said.

“If a consumer is unable to resolve an issue with a gift card with a retailer, they should contact their state or territory consumer fair trading agency otherwise, who may be able to assist in their dispute.

“Consumers can also report their issue to the ACCC.”

Sarah Megginson, senior editor of money at Finder, told that there was only limited wiggle room for those affected by Covid lockdowns.

“If the business was still trading during the pandemic to some capacity, they might argue there was capability to redeem the voucher online if they have a digital storefront,” she explained, and encouraged consumers who were unsure to reach out to the retailer for clarification .

“Despite cut-off dates being extended, gift cards can be easily forgotten if they’re buried in a drawer or wallet,” Ms Megginson said.

“Keep your cards and credits in one place so they don’t get misplaced. This will make it easier to find when you need them.

“Setting a reminder in your phone prior to the expiration date will also help to make sure you don’t forget to use them.”

* Name has been changed

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