An estimated £97.7million was lost on shopping vouchers that went unused during lockdown, new research has revealed.
A quarter of people had a shopping voucher, worth £45.70 on average, that expired during the period when many shops and businesses were forced to close their doors, according to new data from Which?.
Around half of those with an expiring voucher said it was automatically extended by the retailer, while 15 per cent said they had to request an extension.
However, 36 per cent – an estimated 3.1million – did not receive an extension on their shopping vouchers worth £30 on average, automatically losing all the money they had left.
Gift card carnage: An estimated £97.7m was lost on shopping vouchers that went unused during lockdown
This equates to an estimated £97.7million across the whole of Britain.
Those from an older demographic were more likely to lose money, with 46 per cent of those aged over 55 claiming they did not receive an extension for their shopping vouchers.
Meanwhile, 42 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 did not receive an extension either, however this figure dropped to just 20 per cent of those aged 18 to 35.
The gift card industry is worth £6billion every year, according to the UK Gift Card and Voucher Association.
Many retailers introduced new Covid-19 terms and conditions during lockdown and offered to extend vouchers.
While some proactively contacted customers, others were not so helpful.
One person told Which? they had emailed a retailer regarding vouchers that were due to expire during lockdown, and received a swift response extending it.
However, another said they were left ‘disappointed’ when they contacted the company who told them ‘hard luck, basically’.
The industry is worth £6bn every year, according to the UK Gift Card and Voucher Association
Concerns over ‘experience’ days
A popular gift for Christmas and birthdays, experience days for hotels, spas, and activities are another area of concern.
This is because they often have expiry dates, and given the difficulties to book these in the last few months, coupled with a potential scramble to use them, mean some could be looking for refunds.
One voucher holder told This is Money that a hotel is refusing to extend a £280 spa voucher she purchased as a Christmas present for her brother and sister-in-law last year.
Louise said: ‘My sister-in-law is a teacher and can only use the spa during school holidays. They tried to get in in February but were unable to get an available appointment.
‘They intended to try again for Easter, but the Covid-19 lockdown happened and everywhere closed down.
However, when Louise’s brother phoned up again to rearrange in August and asked if the voucher could be extended until next Easter to give time to make an appointment, as well as make sure all facilities were available once fully open and to avoid visiting during a potential second wave, they were told that there would be no extension and no replacement for one of the treatments.
They were also told they had to pay a further £8 each on top of the £280 already spent for PPE if they wanted to come to the hotel before December otherwise they would lose the voucher and money.
Customers with vouchers that expired are advised to contact the company to try and get an extension.
All retailers are expected to be reasonable and extend vouchers that customers were not able to use during lockdown.
Customers with expired vouchers are advised to contact the firm to try & get an extension
Anyone considering buying shopping vouchers now should be wary, as coronavirus has had a severe financial impact on many retailers – with some big names disappearing from the high street altogether.
The possibility of further coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the near future could also make it difficult to spend vouchers.
Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: ‘Our research suggests consumers may have lost tens of millions of pounds on expired vouchers during lockdown.
‘Many retailers have extended shopping vouchers that expired during lockdown, so if you have a voucher you were unable to use it is worth contacting the company.
‘Anyone considering buying a voucher should be aware of the risks, as some well-known retailers have collapsed in recent months and further coronavirus restrictions could make it difficult to spend vouchers and gift cards.’
The survey of 2,000 UK adults was conducted by Opinium on behalf of Which? between 25 and 28 August 2020.
Figures based on an estimated 3.1million UK adults with vouchers worth £31.70 each that were not extended or used during lockdown.