At the moment, voucher schemes are set up in various sectors. The idea behind such schemes is to give consumers who are entitled to refunds vouchers or coupons for the amount of the down payment or financial obligation. With these voucher schemes, businesses seek to prevent bankruptcies if consumers were to ask for refunds en masse. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) recognizes that, due to the current extraordinary situation, it may be more reasonable and wiser for consumers to accept vouchers instead of demanding refunds. That is why ACM has drawn up basic principles for sectors that are contemplating introducing such vouchers. In this context, such schemes should, on the one hand, do justice to the consumers’ right to refunds, but, on the other hand, also be considerate of the difficult situation that business owners currently find themselves in due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
Basic principles of voucher schemes
These basic principles apply to schemes where consumers have already paid for products or services that have not yet been delivered or provided. According to the law, consumers are entitled to refunds in such cases. When offering vouchers, businesses should comply with the following principles:
- The basic rule remains that, when cancellations occur, consumers are entitled to refunds. That is a statutory right that ACM cannot ignore;
- To the consumers in question, the vouchers must represent a full replacement, for example, for delivery of the product or service at a later time with a product or service that is the same or comparable;
- The period of validity of the vouchers must be reasonable, for example, 12 months;
- Businesses must pay out any residual amounts (the amount of the voucher that has not been spent) actively and within a reasonable period. Consumers should not have to do anything to get these residual amounts;
- The vouchers must also cover reservation fees, administrative fees or any other fees that have already been paid in advance;
- Consumers that have already made down payments should not have to pay any outstanding amount if the company is unable to perform its part of the contract. Consumers will then receive a voucher for the amount of the down payment.
In addition to the abovementioned basic principles, ACM finds it important that vouchers are covered by a guarantee fund or something similar. This will offer consumers more assurance that businesses are able to fulfill the contractual obligations that are associated with the issuance of such vouchers. Finally, ACM supports the idea of making vouchers transferable, so that consumers are still able to resell them.
ACM’s oversight over sectoral schemes
If a scheme complies with these basic principles, ACM will not take any action against businesses that adhere to that scheme. However, ACM will keep a close watch on the implementation of such schemes, for example, by monitoring the reports that consumers file with consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. ACM has already reviewed the voucher scheme of the Dutch travel industry. The abovementioned basic principles will also apply to all other schemes that are presented to ACM.
More information for consumers
On the website of ACM ConsuWijzer, consumers can find tips (in Dutch) about what to be mindful of when being offered vouchers. Consumers who do not agree with a scheme have the opportunity to go to the Consumer Complaints Boards or to civil court.