Italy launches ‘Christmas cashback’ scheme in push for digital payments

Italy launches 'Christmas cashback' scheme in push for digital payments
Photo: AFP
A cashback scheme is among Italian government incentives intended to give struggling shops a boost while cracking down on tax evasion.
Long a country where cash is king, Italy has been prodded towards electronic payments in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic, while the government is adding further incentives to pay by card.
 
A new cashback initiative launched this week offers an automatic refund from the state to citizens making in-store purchases with a bank card or
smartphone app, as long as they first register their payment methods on the government's own IO app.
 
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Under “Christmas Cashback”, users will get back 10 percent of each purchase up to a maximum of 150 euros before the end of the year, as long as they make
at least ten digital transactions.
 
In a sign of the idea's popularity, the systems behind IO were overwhelmed when 7.6 million people downloaded it by the day of the scheme's launch on
Tuesday
 
The cashback programme “covers purchases made in shops as well as payments to craftsmen, plumbers, electricians, a lawyer or a doctor,” a finance
ministry spokesman told AFP.
 
Italy's government hopes that by encouraging people to pay digitally, the country can crack down on chronic tax evasion that costs the public purse up
to 100 billion euros ($120 billion) per year according to official estimates.
 
Its broader “Italia Cashless” plan aims to “widen the tax base” in Italy and “provide an incentive to improve compliance with tax rules”, the spokesman said  – in other words, making sure more people pay the tax they owe.
 
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It is still common for shoppers in Italy to run into refusals when they ask to pay with plastic.
 
But data show that the country is gradually coming around to the idea.
 
The percentage of transactions using cash dropping from 68.4 percent in 2016 to 58 percent in 2019, according to a study by Italy's central bank and
the European Central Bank – although even that figure leaves cash payments well above the eurozone average of 48 percent.
 
Photo: Francois Lo Presti/AFP
 
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the trend in 2020, with more people switching to cards to avoid handling cash and choosing to shop online
during lockdown.
 
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that by bringing forward the cashback scheme – originally slated to begin on January 1 – he hoped instead to
direct pre-Christmas spending towards brick-and-mortar shops that suffered through lockdown.
 
The programme excludes internet shopping, where users have no option but to pay by card.
 
“This is a period in which we have all increased (online purchases), but now we must favour in-person businesses,” Conte said earlier this month.
 
The government has earmarked 1.75 billion euros for the scheme for 2021, and three billion for the following year.
 
 
There were technical glitches on Christmas Cashback launch day on Tuesday, with many people complaining they could not activate the IO app.
 
Blaming the “huge volume of requests” to use the system, the operators admitted some “inefficiencies” but said they were being addressed.
 
As part of its “Italia Cashless” plan, the government is also automatically enrolling those who pay by card or app in a lottery, with prizes for both
shoppers and shopkeepers.
 
In addition, the ceiling for cash payments is due to fall from 2,000 euros to 1,000 euros from January 2022.

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