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Italy’s Farcical New Plastic Law

From yesterday Italy’s shops, plumbers, dentists, doctors, and others have to arm themselves with what Italy likes to refer to as POSs. Actually, they don’t have to. Don’t worry, all will become clear.

A POS, which stands for Point Of Sale, is basically a unit which is able to accept payments via credit or other payment cards.

Card readers are now mandatory for purchases of over €30 in Italy, except they are not. Yes, I know mandatory means mandatory, but this is Italy. In fact, businesses not installing card readers won’t face any penalties whatsoever. The ‘law‘ which introduced the ‘mandatory‘ card reader requirement makes no prevision for sanctions in the event that the mandatory machines are not made available. As you can see, mandatory does not have quite the same meaning in Italian as it has in English, but then neither does the word ‘all‘.

A Credit Card Reader or POS in Italian
A Credit Card Reader or POS in Italian

Why exactly in debt up to its eyeballs Italy has wasted time and taxpayer money on the introduction of such a silly law which isn’t, is anyone’s guess. The logic behind the move to encourage the use of card readers in Italy is that it will make transactions easier to track and that this will discourage tax evasion. It won’t work though simply because the requirement is not mandatory.

Regardless of the law, it is still possible to pay cash in Italy for purchases of up to €1000. As a rule though, if you are paying several hundred Euros for a product, you are going to want a guarantee and for guarantees to be valid, proof of purchase is required. In other words, you will require a receipt. Where receipts are issued, the chances of tax evasion occurring are greatly reduced. The situation changes when it comes to services. Cash payments of around €1000 could go towards car repairs, building works or even medical and dental bills. Services costing over €1000 can, of course, be paid in instalments. In Italy’s services sector, where guarantees exist they tend to be unwritten.

It is not that the installation of card readers in non-service businesses will make much difference anyway. Even if Italy’s shops and other businesses do set themselves up with card readers, where items cost less than €30, the tax evasion will go merrily on. As there is no sanction for not installing a card reader, few will bother installing one. Even if they do, they can still accept cash payments for transactions of up to €1000. Where cash is involved, tax evasion is much easier.

As you can see, the card reader ‘requirement’ is going to make little, if any, difference to Italy’s massive tax evasion problem.

Mandatory Moaning

Even if the mandatory requirement is not mandatory, Italian merchants are already moaning about the cost of installing and maintaining card readers.

My Italian other half who does the administration for a shop in Milan tells me that the card reader costs €10 a month to run. Not exactly a fortune but others say the cost is as much as €600 a year or even higher. The cost to businesses in Italy of installing card reader machines and the payment of commissions has been put at €5 billion by Italy’s Confesercenti, an association which represents small and medium size shop owners and service businesses.

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Confesercenti stated that seeing as seeing as most Italians tend to prefer to pay in cash, the initiative risks getting nowhere.

Indeed, everyone will be stunned if this new ‘law’ has any effect whatsoever. The silliness does not stop there though!

There’s also talk of forcing all of Italy’s VAT registered professionals and the self-employed to set themselves up with card readers. This could actually be quite fun. Being the unlucky holder of a VAT registration in Italy, I could raise an invoice, pop along to my client’s accounts department, and then slap down the invoice and the card reader. I’d then smile sweetly in the hope that my invoice would settled on the spot. While this would improve my cashflow, the chance of my being paid on the spot is about as high as that of my winning Italy’s national lottery. I’d be laughed out of the accounts department with my tail between my legs. I’d also lose any possibility of other work from the client. The card reader would be a total waste of money for me, as it would be for many other VAT registered individuals in Italy who, despite their VAT registrations, work as full time employees – people like lawyers, architects and engineers.

Card Readers Fairly Common in Italy

Supermarkets in Italy have card readers as do most department stores. Smaller shops are a bit of a mixed bag. Some have card readers, others do not and may even sport signs stating payment can be made in cash and cash alone. While many, though by no means all, of Italy’s eateries tend to possess card reader payment machines, Italy’s many coffee bars don’t tend to.

Although Italians, as Confesercenti observed, tend to dislike plastic, foreign visitors to Italy don’t.

Heaven only knows how many sales Italy’s stores have lost though the years to tourists from nations where paying by plastic is now the norm, but it’s likely to be a lot.

From this Italy resident’s experience, shop owners in Italy’s tourist honey pots do tend to be able to accept plastic payment. Visit a shop off the well trodden tourist trail, though, and the story is likely to be very different. Either you pay cash or you walk away empty handed. The same goes for certain restaurants. Either you pay cash or you don’t eat. Hopefully you find this out before you tuck in but I’m willing to bet quite a few tourists have been caught out by Italy’s cash-only eateries after having lunch.

One shares the distinct suspicion of Italy’s Confesercenti association that this initiative, such that it is, will fall flat on its face.

Who knows how much creating this law which isn’t cost? What a waste of time and money. It’s no wonder Italy’s national debt continues to spiral upwards.

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