Faded receipts and record keeping requirements

Something that I’m seeing more and more of lately is blank receipts. I’m not talking about invoices that someone has neglected to fill in, but rather point of sale receipts and dockets that were once legible but have now totally faded and can no longer be read. It’s become an increasingly common occurrence to open an envelope of receipts, usually cash register dockets, and not be able to read them at all or only just make out the supplier, when and for how much the transaction was. The reason for this is that many cash registers today use thermal ink to print receipts as retailers get rid of their old ink printers and replacing them with faster, less expensive thermal ones. The way it works is a heated stylus passes over thermal paper, which is coated in a chemical that darkens when heated. That thermal ink printed receipt looks sharp, crisp and clean when it’s first printed, but because the chemical layer remains active after the receipt is produced and it’s sensitive to light, heat, friction and plastics, it can fade over time or darken quickly. This makes it difficult to read the information or even renders the receipt useless.

Under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), businesses must provide consumers with a proof of transaction for goods or services valued at $75 or more, or for a less expensive purchase by request. However, there’s nothing in the legislation that specifies how that receipt should be printed, and there’s no legal requirement for a receipt to remain legible, and not fade, after the initial sale. If you have a receipt that has faded and is now too light to read, you can try a couple of techniques to restore the print and get the information you need. You can place the receipt on a scanner and scan it into an image processing program. Use the program to adjust the darkness levels until you can read the information. Alternatively, make a photocopy of the receipt by using the darkest possible setting on the copier. Turning up the darkness can reveal the faded numbers and date on the receipt. Once you’ve made the copy, staple the original faded receipt to the photocopy.

If you haven’t copied them and find receipts in your wallet a few months later that have turned into blank pieces of paper, don’t worry. A faded receipt doesn’t necessarily mean its void for bookkeeping, tax purposes, returns or warranty periods. If a receipt is faded beyond recognition there are other ways of providing proof of purchase. You can use credit card or bank statements, handwritten receipts, loyalty card recordings, lay-by agreements or photos and photocopies. For the best chance of keeping thermal receipts legible for as long as possible you need to store them correctly by keeping them in a safe, dry place away from heat and light and not in plastic sleeves. Until there are improvements in thermal ink printing technology, the best way of ensuring the safety of thermal receipts, and to prevent them disappearing is to take a photo of it with your phone or make a copy of them as soon as you receive it.