In the FY2013 budget, the Ontario government proposed the Unclaimed Property Program to address lost or forgotten assets. Consultation was held with stakeholders and final submissions are due September 18, 2013.
Retail Category Consultants consulted with retail organizations and industry associations to discuss the proposal and recommendations, keep the retailers apprised of submissions, and ensure that submissions were consistent and reflected the retailers’ perspective.
With final submissions due this week, the following is a summary of the submissions we have received and reviewed.
While most were in support of regulatory initiatives that protect or further business and consumer interests, the proposed Unclaimed Property Program does not serve to further either purpose. The recommendations we reviewed all recommended that gift cards and prepaid cards be specifically excluded from the legislation.
Arguments to support this position included:
- Confusion will arise regarding where unclaimed funds are ultimately remitted since there are no priority rules about which province can hold the funds
- Retailers with stores in multiple jurisdictions will face challenges with harmonizing their operations
- Gift cards and prepaid product balances will fall below di minimus thresholds
- Retailers will be liable for new administrative, training, and technology costs in order to comply with the legislation, which harms innovation and development—this is a financial burden that is not reclaimable by retailers
- The anonymous and fluid nature of ownership of gift and prepaid cards means that retailers do not have the ability to track ownership information, making it impossible to provide accurate transfer information to the government and to notify owners when unclaimed property is transferred to the government
- Inconsistent legislation throughout Canada means more difficulty in determining which provincial jurisdiction applies to unclaimed property purchased in one province but used in another; this is is magnified when the item is not originally purchased by the owner since these products are frequently given as gifts
- Gift and prepaid products have no expiry dates or inactivity fees. The retailer is responsible for redemption, providing excellent consumer protection
- Customers wait before redeeming their property for a multitude of reasons, but if the funds were transferred to the government before redemption, the property will expire, which is inconsistent with existing legislation designed to protect consumers
In The U.S
- Similar proposals were rejected because they placed huge administrative and financial burdens on gift card issuers, especially those that sell cards in multiple states
- Regulatory bodies were concerned that certain unclaimed property laws did not require gift card issuers to honor unclaimed cards/funds after transferring them to the state, which complicates the use of the card
- Jurisdictions have lost substantial tax revenue due to retailers omitting gift card sales and directing customers to vendors in other jurisdictions, and we don’t want this to happen in Ontario
- The Consumer Protection Act is enough protection for gift card or prepaid card owners
Brands and retailers should continue to have full responsibility for the redemption of unclaimed property, not third parties. The extra costs to the retailer, customer, and taxpayer do not improve consumer protection, and defeat the purpose of the legislation.