Italy’s new budget bill is set to add yet another controversial chapter to the country’s long and troubled history of card payment laws.
Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be fined for refusing card payments for smaller amounts – a controversial move that is expected to have a knock-on effect for shoppers.
Fines for retailers refusing card payments on amounts lower than €60 will now be suspended until at least June 2023, according to a clause included in the text of the 2023 budget law published to media on Wednesday.
As set out by the bill, the six-month suspension will allow the newly created Ministry of Enterprises and Made in Italy to “establish new exemption criteria” and “guarantee the proportionality of the given penalties”.
And, though it isn’t yet clear what new exemptions the government is currently considering nor what exactly is meant by “proportionality”, what’s certain is that residents who had started to make more purchases by card will now have to repopulate their pockets with some good old banknotes because businesses – from taxi drivers to cafes and bars – might not accept card payments for small amounts.
Fines for businesses caught refusing card payments had been introduced by Draghi’s administration back in June 2022, with retailers liable to pay “a €30 administrative fee plus four percent of the value of the transaction previously denied”, regardless of the amount owed by the customer.
The measure angered retailers who lamented having to pay hefty bank commissions on every electronic transaction – some business owners even went as far as openly defying the law and organised themselves into a protest group (Comitato No Pos, roughly meaning ‘Anti-point-of-sale committee’).
Given the government’s new legislation, it seems like their efforts might just have paid off.
But, while many business owners will no doubt be happy with the suspension, others have already raised doubts about the potential ripple effects of the government’s move.
Aside from shoppers having to carry more cash than they’re currently used to, many political commentators are warning that the suspension might be a “gift to tax dodgers” in a country where, according to the latest available estimates, tax evasion costs state coffers nearly €90 billion a year.
The same was said about another of the government’s recent changes: raising the cash payment limit from 2,000 to 5,000 euros.
A previous government led by Giuseppe Conte had introduced several measures aimed at encouraging the use of electronic payments, most of which have since ended or been rolled back.
The introduction of fines for businesses refusing card payments was one of the financial objectives set out within Italy’s Recovery Plan (PNRR), which expressly refers to the fight against tax evasion as one of the country’s most urgent priorities.
It is therefore likely that the new cabinet will at some point have to explain the latest U-turn on Recovery Plan policies in front of the EU Commission.