People with gift cards for two major retailers who announced this week that they are going into administration are being urged to use them as soon as possible.
Toy firm Toys R Us and electronics retailer Maplin both called in administrators this week amid financial difficulties, putting a total of more than 5,000 jobs at risk.
Both are currently accepting gift cards held by customers, but an insolvency expert has warned this might change quickly.
Andrew Haslam, North East chairman of insolvency trade body R3, said people with gift cards from two the struggling retailers should use them sooner rather than later to avoid losing out.
While the administrators of both firms have so far said they will continue to accept gift cards, there are not legally obliged to do so.
The situations may change if the volume of cards being redeemed affects the prospects of the businesses being saved.
Mr Haslam said: “It is understandably frustrating when a retailer won’t accept gift cards during an administration.
"But the administrator is obliged to look after all creditors’ interests according to a strict hierarchy set out in law, and unfortunately customers are just one of a number of creditors that a retailer has.
“Administrators make their decisions regarding accepting gift cards on a commercial basis and it is not a decision that they will take lightly.
"On the one hand, accepting them could lose the business more money, but on the other, not doing so could hurt the relationship between the retailer and its customers.
"Accepting large volumes of gift cards could hurt other creditors or make business rescue harder to achieve, which is the administrator's primary responsibility.
"There is no guarantee that the current stance on Toys R Us and Maplin continuing to accepting them will be maintained indefinitely."
Toys R Us has three stores in the North East, in Sunderland, at the Metrocentre, and Stockton, while Maplin has outlets in Newcastle, Cramlington, Durham and the Metrocentre.
Mr Haslam continues: “Customers with cards from either Maplin or Toys R Us should check with store staff whether they can still redeem them, and should do sooner rather than later if possible, especially as stores in either chain may be subject to closure without notice.
“There is no obligation for administrators to honour refunds, although in practice this will be decided on a case-by-case basis. However, where goods are found to be faulty and are returned, the consumer still has a statutory right to a refund.”