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Spate of administrations puts gift vouchers under the spotlight

Retailers in administration won’t always vouch for gift vouchers, imposing restrictions on when and where they can be used. Make sure you know your rights

Struggling fashion chain Peacocks has announced it will no longer accept gift vouchers from customers. The clothing chain, which has been in administration since 19 January, said Peacocks-specific or third-party shopping vouchers will no longer be accepted in its stores.

The retailer instead said customers “may have an unsecured claim against the company in respect of the gift vouchers” and urged people to write to the administrator KPMG to apply for a refund.

Peacocks will also no longer refund or exchange unwanted goods, but said it will continue to exchange defective goods sold after the appointment of KPMG, “provided that they are returned within 14 days of sale, together with the original receipt”.

According to the administrator, Peacocks stores remain open while it searches for a buyer. But shoppers should note they will be unable to return or exchange unwanted goods and should not purchase gift vouchers if they remain on sale.

Shoppers’ rights have been under the spotlight at other troubled retailers in recent weeks. Gift chain Past Times collapsed into administration with the closure of 46 stores and the loss of 574 jobs in mid-January, while children’s clothing retailer Pumpkin Patch and lingerie specialist La Senza have also called in the administrators.

Past Times says refunds will not be offered on goods bought before it entered into administration, and it will no longer accept gift vouchers, while Pumpkin Patch will not accept gift vouchers in store but will let shoppers use them when making purchases online.

Customers who believe they have a claim for a refund for unusable Peacocks vouchers should print and complete this claim form and return it to The Joint Administrators Deirdre Cox, KPMG, Arlington Business Park, Theale, Reading, RG7 4SD.

Concerned consumers should also read our Q&A on gift vouchers and may find the following helpful:

Are all gift vouchers worthless if a company goes bust?

It depends on the administrators that take over the company. Vouchers tend not to be accepted and those in possession of a voucher would need to lodge a claim with the administrators and hope for the best.

I bought vouchers using a credit card. Am I protected?

Buying with a credit card does usually offer you extra protection when a company goes bust, assuming you have spent more than £100. The part of the Consumer Credit Act (1974) known as section 75 means your credit card company is “jointly and severally liable” for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the company you have bought through – so the card company would pay out on your claim.

However, the situation with vouchers is more complicated, and the Financial Ombudsman Service says vouchers have not yet formed the basis of a claim on which it has had to rule. The situation does appear to be that if there is no third party involved then you could be effective in making a claim.

So, if you buy vouchers directly from a store to spend in that store you would be entitled to your money back if that store went bust (remember, this only applies if you’ve spent more than £100 using your credit card). However, if you used a third party such as a website that sells vouchers on behalf of a number of stores, you could not make a claim.

Check out our factsheet on using Section 75 and the Chargeback facility for more information.

My vouchers don’t have an expiry date. Can I use them whenever I like?

Don’t assume that because you can’t see an expiry date on a voucher or gift card that it doesn’t have one. Some, such as those from John Lewis, have no expiry date. But others do: gift cards for, for example, expire one year from the date of issue, while Marks & Spencer gift cards are valid for four years, although each time a customer spends on the card the expiry date is reset to four years. Check individual terms and conditions.

Can I use vouchers on a retailer’s website as well as in-store?

No, not always. H&M, for example, won’t let you use its cards online, nor will Topshop. On the other hand House of Fraser will, but its gift vouchers come with other conditions – they cannot be used to “purchase white goods, large kitchen appliances, Bivolino custom-made shirts and Montgomery made-to-measure curtains, accessories and fabrics”. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds