/ Money, Shopping

Ask Which? – Why won’t Habitat let me use my gift vouchers?

Hand holding a gift card

Alison asks: My husband and I were given £400 of Habitat vouchers for our wedding. Unfortunately, as I have health problems, we struggled to get into any of the Habitat stores to use them and I couldn’t use them online.

When we eventually got to go, around five months later, I checked the Habitat website to find that they had stopped taking vouchers a few weeks before. I emailed them to see if they would make an exception, but I only got a standard reply saying ‘sorry we can’t’.

So I emailed them twice more, with no response. I understand their trading conditions, but this has been stressful and upsetting when I think of all the love that went into buying them and now I feel that I have lost all my friends’ money.

I have been a Habitat customer for years and feel that it has just lost a loyal client. Is there anything I can do?

Joanne Lezemore, Senior Solicitor for Which? Legal Service responds:

What a horrible situation for you, no wonder you have found it stressful and upsetting. But unfortunately, I’m sorry to say that you probably have no legal recourse.

However, it will depend on whether the gift voucher states an expiry date or whether the terms and conditions make it clear that by giving notice they can change the conditions (although such a clause may be deemed unfair). Do have a good read through the T&Cs on your voucher to see if there are any dates or references about notice periods.

Whenever you enter into a contract you are only bound by the T&Cs that are brought to your attention at the time. Therefore, if there is no mention of an expiry date, you may be able to go back to Habitat.

However, even if there is no expiry date, you will need to talk to your friends and family who purchased the vouchers. Ask them whether, at the time of purchase, they were told of the expiry (either verbally or by ticking a box agreeing to T&Cs if they were purchased online). If they were, again you would not be able to claim.

I hope this helps you and good luck getting Habitat to change its mind. Please be aware that the guidance given is limited by the information I have and should not be treated as a substitute for taking full legal advice.

Have you ever been caught out by the terms and conditions on gift cards and vouchers – and did you have better luck getting the issue resolved?

Comments
Guest

How about M&S credit vouchers without an expiry date which they stopped accepting in April 2009, claiming that had put notices warning customers about this? Since I never saw the notice (one doesn’t necessarily look at all the notices posted on store walls), could I claim on the basis of Joanne’s point above – that I can be only bound by the T&C’s notified when the credit vouchers were given to me (unless I was personally notified of any subsequent amendments)?

Guest
anon the mouse says:
20 December 2011

“Whenever you enter into a contract you are only bound by the T&Cs that are brought to your attention at the time. Therefore, if there is no mention of an expiry date, you may be able to go back to Habitat.”

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but how can you state this and say the opposite for Orange.

Guest

Unless I’ve completely misunderstood this case, it’s another not very helpful and somewhat misleading response from Which?

The answer given centres around the terms and conditions under which the vouchers were issued, expiry dates, etc., etc. Yet there is no mention in this conversation that Habitat have gone into Administration.

I doubt very much that the original terms and conditions for purchase of a voucher would cover this contingency, and entering into Adminstration completely changes the legal ground rules, regardless of what the company might have promised in its T&Cs.

You cease to be the holder of a gift voucher (credit note) issued by a solvent company with the right to conduct its business as it sees fit, and overnight become a creditor of an insolvent one. Basically, you are in the same boat as everyone else who will lose some or all of their money owed by the company – employees, suppliers, customers and shareholders, all holding more or less worthless bits of paper to back up their claims.

The Adminstrators have a duty to all creditors to crystalise the assets and assess the debits of the insolvent company and pay a dividend with the minimum of delay and expense. They cannot wait indefinitely for every creditor to appear, and once the remaining assets have been distributed, there is nothing left to pay latecomers, hence the agressive timescale for presenting credit notes for redemption.

My closing advice would be to recognise gift vouchers for what they are – an unsecured and interest-free loan to the retailer that can only be redeemed for goods. Avoid buying them, unless you or the recipient can easily afford to lose the money.

Guest

Hi Em, you’re right about Habitat going into administration, however it was a strange situation because three stores have remained open for trading. We had to cut back the original question as it was very long, but Alison did say that she was going to one of these three stores, so the question about using the vouchers in those stores remains valid. But many thanks for all the extra and useful info you have provided.

Guest

You are right to warn us about gift vouchers, Em.

I purchased Kingfisher vouchers at 90% of the face value thanks to a points system run by my credit card provider. I forgot about them and was left with £180 of vouchers that I could not redeem.

Guest

Hi Hannah, thanks for the clarification. I can understand this has been edited – but unfortunately in such a way that, reading this Conversation out of context, it looks like the retailer just decided to stop accepting gift voucher for no good reason.

In an Administration, some parts of the business may be kept going as you describe, but it is never certain whether the new owners will honour the previous company’s commitments; unfulfilled orders, warranties and credit notes. This might be done as a matter of good will by the new owners, particularly when trading under the old name, but there may be no obligation to do so unless the business was sold on with that caveat.

What still seems to be missing from the article is that:

i) You should still lodge a claim with the Adminstrators – you may not get much back, but 10% is better than nothing.

ii) If the vouchers were bought using a credit card, there may be a claim against the credit card provider. In the case of a gift such as this, the donor would have to make the claim.

In view of the sum involved, I would not just throw them in the bin.

Guest
relieved customer says:
8 December 2014

Wow thank goodness I read this article. I was just about to spend a shed load of money on my neice’s christmas present. She had requested Habitat vouchers. I just can’t believe that a shop would sell vouchers and then say you can’t spend them here, and you can’t spend them at this shop. Unvelievable. I will stick to the trust worthy shops from now on.