Talk of empty gifts is not a great look for a company. But that is the position One4All has found itself in as consumers find themselves paying charges for cards they were given as gifts – many by their employers under a government-sanctioned scheme.
This is nothing new. One4All, and others, have been charging fees on unused balances for years. Occasionally it hit the headlines and then the world moved on.
What has changed is that, since 2017, under the small benefit exemption, employers can reward staff with a bonus over and above their salary in the form of vouchers for up to €500 a year. And, as the biggest gift voucher/card in the sector, One4All cards have been a popular choice for employers and staff.
This suddenly expanded market was great business for One4All but it also meant more people finding themselves on the wrong side of charges over time.
The company charges €1.45 a month on unused balances from a year after the card is activated. It is not alone. Dundrum Town Centre charges €3 a month on its gift card under the same circumstances, and there are no doubt others.
The government moved to address this in 2018, when, among others, current Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland chief Brian Hayes – then an MEP – labelled the charges “daylight robbery”.
Under the aptly named Unfair Contract Terms (Gift Vouchers) Bill, it proposed to extend the guaranteed life of gift vouchers from one year to five, and to address the issue of charges on unused balances.
Following intensive lobbying from One4All and others, the Bill morphed into the altogether more watered-down Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019. The five-year rule came in but charges on gift cards were left untouched, with the industry arguing these were not in fact vouchers, but pre-loaded electronic money cards.
Unused balance charges leave a sour taste, the very opposite of what employers intended when using the bonus exemption. They might be better advised giving their business to one of the many in-store gift cards that are covered by the legislation, and which do not charge a fee on unused balances.