Explained: Why shops in Germany will soon be forced to give you a receipt

Explained: Why shops in Germany will soon be forced to give you a receipt
Do you need a receipt with every purchase? Photo: DPA
A new law comes into force on January 1st that means bakeries, hairdressers, restaurants and other retailers in Germany will have to issue receipts to customers. Here's why and what people think about it.

When you buy something at the supermarket you're probably asked if you want a receipt with your purchase. But usually at smaller shops, hairdressers, cafes or bakeries it's often the norm to not get a receipt (unless you specifically ask for one).

That's all set to change in Germany.

The “Law on the Protection against Manipulation of Digital Records” (Kassengesetz) , which was passed back in 2016, means from next year German retailers will have a “receipt obligation” (Bon-Zwang or Bon-Pflicht) and must issue a record of the item or service they have sold to customers.

The move is intended to make tax evasion more difficult – but as it means more bureaucracy and paper waste, some people are not happy about it, as German media reported this week. 

Who does the law apply to?

Anyone who sells products of services in exchange for money has to comply with the Kassengesetz.

If the seller doesn't have an electronic cash register they still have to manually record each transaction and make sure the tax office has a way to trace it. 

The receipt when it's given to the customer has to include information such as an invoice number, the serial number of the cash register, the name and address of the seller and the date.

Do I have to keep the receipt?

No. The obligation is on the retailer to issue the receipt and the make it available immediately. There is no legal requirement for customers to take the receipt with them and file it.

READ ALSO: The complete German supermarket survival guide

Photo: DPA

Is there really a point in retailers printing a receipt? Doesn't the cash register log it?

The obligation to issue receipts serves to increase transparency in the fight against tax fraud, as additional data will have to be printed on the receipt compared to the current requirements, authorities say.

In a cash register review or a tax audit it is apparently easier to check whether the business transaction was individually recorded and stored. For example, a comparison of the receipt with the records of the software can reveal any manipulation of the system.

Is everyone okay about this?

No. In fact, there's been a few high profile outspoken critics of the plan.

Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier, of the centre-right Christian Democrats, told broadcaster ZDF television's “Morgenmagazin” on Monday: “When I buy a roll, I don't look on the receipt to see if there's any fraud.”

Criticism of the new law also came from the environmental organization BUND. “The till receipt obligation primarily produces mountains of rubbish from non-recyclable and problematic thermal paper till receipts,” said BUND waste expert Rolf Buschmann.

According to German daily Welt, the amount of receipts printed out each year could fill 43 football fields. And if they were laid one behind the other, they would be 2.2 million kilometers long, enough to wrap receipts around the equator 50 times.

“We talk about environmental protection and discuss the reduction of coffee-to-go cups, but then create mountains of waste made of coated paper,” Daniel Schneider of the Central Association of the German Bakery Trade told the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”.

Experts consider sales receipts to be particularly bad for the environment due to them being coated in harmful chemicals.

However, retailers are moving towards using more environmentally friendly sales slip paper.

The Finance Ministry justifies the mandatory issue of receipts with the fact that it will make the work of local tax investigators easier.

Can receipts be sent electronically?

Yes. Receipts can also be issued as e-mails or sent to mobile phones. But it doesn't seem likely that your local baker or small shops will go for this option (at least at first).

Germany is also notorious for being slow on moving forward in the digital world (cash is still king in Deutschland) and places importance on data privacy so many people might feel uncomfortable about handing over their email addresses to retailers.

Can anyone get out of this?

An exception to the rule is possible in rare cases when it's “reasonable” – for example when goods are sold to a large number of people in cash.

Bars or kiosks, for example, which have several walk-in customers, may be exempt from the obligation to record the receipt. To do this, an application must be submitted to the relevant tax office, which can be approved, but also revoked at any time.


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