The raising of the ceiling for contactless payments to 50 euros, which accompanied the reopening of shops on May 11, has exacerbated illegal behavior wrongly assimilated to a protective measures against the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Federation of Cash Management Companies (FEDESFI).
France practices what is referred to as a hard version of legal tender. That means that the acceptance of cash is compulsory by law. According to article R642-3 of the penal code, the refusal to accept coins and banknotes which are legal tender, is punished by a second-class fine, which is currently set at €150. In April, the Banque de France as well as the National Ombudsman have reminded merchants that refusing cash for a payment is illegal.
“The refusal to pay cash in shops is not part of the restrictive measures envisaged by the law of March 23, 2020 relating to the state of health emergency,” said Fedesfi on its website. And “the behaviour of these retailers is based on false allegations, capable of characterizing a deceptive commercial practice constituting an offense and likely to distort competition”, protests the Federation.
According to Le Parisien, the Competition Authority confirmed that it had taken up the matter and take it very seriously. “The law is clear, it is not legal to prohibit cash settlement. Cash remains an important method of payment for many consumers, especially the most vulnerable.”.
In the crosshairs of FEDESFI, are several DIY, wine and spirits brands as well as independent retailers. La Parisien reports that by surfing for a few minutes on the internet, they identified several retailers who stipulate they only accept payment by card in stores. This is the case of Leroy Merlin and Castorama among others. On the Castorama website, in the section “Health rules to be observed in stores”, one can read: “Payment by bank card and Castorama card only”.
“It is a computer bug that we have solved”, said Kingfisher, the parent company of Castorama and Brico Dépôt. “It is a protocol that we implemented for health reasons when reopening our self-service stores from April 24, while we were still under lockdown. Since the stores have been reopening, we recommend to our customers to prefer payment by card but accept other payment methods.”
Burger King got it wrong as well. The fast-food chain claims on its website: “Payment by card or contactless only.”
In each case, the retailers assimilate the use of a bank card with a protective measure against the spread of Covid-19. “Using cash does not put a customer more at risk than using a payment terminal or touching a product,” protested one of the members of FEDESFI, who estimated that several hundreds of stores are refusing now cash in France, before condemning this “psychosis” detrimental to the most fragile consumers.
“This obstacle to the freedom to use cash obviously benefits the large international private card schemes and payment terminal providers, which have used misleading communications to fuel the unfounded fears linked to payment in cash, ”accuses FEDESFI.