Interview | Coupons in Corona times
“You must have been prevented from redeeming the voucher”
Concerts, cinema, theater, it was often not possible in the last two years. The organizers issued vouchers as a replacement, especially at the beginning of the corona pandemic. But many were never redeemed. What happens when they expire?
In early 2020, before the outbreak of the corona pandemic, the world was different, especially when it came to leisure planning. Concert tickets to Die Ärzte, a season ticket to Alba Berlin, an annual subscription to the fitness center that has just been subscribed, and friends also gave me a coupon for a wellness weekend in Christmas 2019.
Two years later, not only fatigue but also disillusionment prevails. The concerts were canceled, the season ended without the audience, the subscription expired and the wellness voucher was also forgotten in the pile of untapped opportunities.
In any case, the so-called Corona vouchers, which were supposed to keep the organizers shaken by the crisis above water, have been able to be paid out since the beginning of the year. David Overmeyer, a lawyer and legal adviser to the Berlin Consumer Advice Center, explains why you should not throw away other expired vouchers without at least trying to redeem them.
rbb | 24: Hr. Overmeyer, people have recently been able to get their so-called corona vouchers paid out. Do you already feel a wave of refunds rolling in?
David Overmeyer: We have received many inquiries on this subject over the past two years. The Corona vouchers pursuant to Article 240 § 5 EGBGB are mandatory vouchers normally issued against the will of the consumer. Many consumers came to us with a request to have their money refunded instead of the voucher. In some cases we could help, but for many we had to point out that they are not entitled to a refund until 31 December 2021. Since then, not many inquiries have been received. However, it may only become relevant now that the feedback comes about whether the payment will actually be made.
This means that it can also mean that everything is going smoothly right now.
I will not judge that. We just can not say exactly yet, it is also possible that the feedback will come. In case of doubt, we only receive inquiries where there are problems with the refunds.
Can you briefly explain what the so-called Corona vouchers were exactly?
For example, if you purchased a concert ticket * before March 8, 2020, the company was entitled to issue a voucher due to the corona pandemic, which you could then redeem.
So these are cases where I wanted a certain benefit, but then got the voucher that I really did not want. So even though I really wanted to go to a certain concert on a certain day, I suddenly had a voucher in my hand that I did not really know what to line up with. Otherwise, with vouchers it is more such that I can choose the service within the framework of the offer and also make this decision consciously.
But you should take the coupon first, even though you already knew you would not attend a replacement event?
Yes. However, there were exceptions for cases of special difficulty if for personal reasons it is unreasonable for you to accept the coupons. But you as a consumer should prove it in a specific case. In such cases, a payout was also planned before 31 December.
Does this also apply in general to gift cards that have now expired and that you could not or did not want to redeem during the Corona pandemic?
That’s another rule. Gift cards do not fall under Article 240 EGBGB, as the subsequent choice for the recipient was deliberately kept open. Coupons are not specifically defined by law. These are small bearer securities pursuant to section 807 BGB, which have been acquired in accordance with the rules of the Sale of Goods Act and give the holder the right to redeem them at a predetermined value from the seller’s range. Basically as a currency that is only accepted in a particular store. Another difference to money is that they are usually subject to the standard limitation period of three years.
However, not all vouchers are valid for three years and there are often other periods.
In any case, you should check whether the deadline is legal, because time-limiting clauses for securities are also subject to the control of the general terms and conditions. There are various courts which have ruled that the time limit must be at least twelve months, anything less than this is usually unacceptable as an unreasonable inconvenience to consumers. Then the ordinary limitation period of just three years applies.
And it has not changed despite the Corona?
During the pandemic, a suspension of the limitation period in case of force majeure pursuant to § 206 BGB may apply. Let’s say I have a cinema coupon, but the cinemas are closed, so as a creditor I can not claim the service at all. The voucher is then extended with the closing time due to the pandemic – but only if it has not been possible to redeem it within the last six months before the expiry of the limitation period.
And that applies to any kind of voucher?
Basically yes, but the classic shopping voucher is hit less often, for example. The retail trade was not really closed. You must have been prevented from redeeming the voucher.
When else do consumers have a bad chance of redeeming their expired coupons or getting a refund?
The limitation period is an objection. This means that the entrepreneur must actively express this. So you do not have to make the company aware that the voucher has expired if you do not have to. If the voucher is accepted without protest, consumers can continue to demand payment in return.
But if the claim is obsolete and the defense is raised, the odds are small. The same rules apply as if I bought and paid for a product but did not pick it up. If the sellers then say: ‘Unfortunately you are too late’ – then I was just unlucky.
And what about special cases, for example, if the facility was not closed, but I still would not in the cinema, theater or a wellness pool under the Corona, and the voucher has now expired?
Among other things, we offer general legal advice if there are obstacles to trading with the company. However, we usually only come into play when there are problems. If there is a legal claim, we will take action against it, without it it is difficult. But we are happy to check that.
However, it always makes sense to first contact the provider directly. In many cases, one can hope for a concession from the company and aim for a contract adjustment – or at least try it. It’s better than throwing away the coupon without asking.
Thank you for the interview!
The interview was conducted by John Hennig, rbb | 24.
* In addition to events, the regulation also includes admission cards to museums, amusement parks, swimming pools and subscriptions to sports studios or season tickets to stadiums.
Broadcast: Super.Markt, February 7, 2022, at 20.15