‘Pointless paperwork’ or necessary? Mixed views over Germany’s new ‘receipt obligation’

'Pointless paperwork' or necessary? Mixed views over Germany's new 'receipt obligation'
A pile of receipts in a bag at a bakery in Hanover, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA
When you’re buying morning rolls, bratwurst or ice-cream it’s unusual to be offered a receipt. But under a new law, retailers in Germany have to do this. There's been a mixed reaction so far.

Turning into a long paper snake, receipts curl up at the cash desk in a Dresden branch of the Möbius bakery. Hardly any customers who pop in to buy bread rolls, cakes or pastries want to take their receipt with them, so they are left on the counter.

Bakery sales assistant Klaus Barche collects the receipts in a transparent box, feeling irritated by the “pointless paper chaos”. 

Previously, a roll of paper used to last three to five days in the cash register. But now at least one roll is printed per day. 

“It annoys us, it annoys the customers,” says Barche.

But under a new law which came into force on January 1st, German retailers have a “receipt obligation” (Bon-Zwang or Bonpflicht) and must issue a record of the item or service they have sold to customers.

The “Law on the Protection against Manipulation of Digital Records” (Kassengesetz) is intended to make tax evasion more difficult – but as it means more bureaucracy and paper waste, there's a lot of grumbling over it.

“I think it's nonsense,” says a young woman from Dresden in the queue at the bakery, questioning why anyone would need a receipt for a snack “I'm not going to complain about my roll anyway,” she says.

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

'Typical Germany'

The new law means extra waste is inevitably being produced. At the checkout, several debates over the new law are sparked when Barche asks his customers if they want to take their receipts with them. Two construction workers, who get soup for lunch, shake their heads. “Typical Germany” is their comment.

The owner of Schawarma City, a kebab snack bar in downtown Düsseldorf, agrees.

Because of the new law, the snack bar owner had to buy a new electronic cash register. Neighbouring kiosks are also not making positive noises about the obligation to provide a receipt: “Rubbish” and a “waste of paper” – they all agree on that.

But the regulation should actually please the taxpayer: the so-called “Bonpflicht” is one of several measures passed in 2016.

A receipt with your roll? Photo: DPA

The receipt obligation for all traders with electronic cash register systems is intended to help in the fight against tax fraud – because the till and number of receipts printed can be easily compared against each other by auditors. 

Fraud with manipulated cash registers leads to tax losses in the double-digit billions every year, emphasizes Social Democrats' finance politician Lothar Binding. For retailers who do not yet have a suitable cash register, there is a transition phase until September.

And it's not all moans and groans.

Claudia Reichenbächer of the Dresden butcher of the same name, cannot understand why it's a big deal.

“We have an electronic cash register and always print out the receipt anyway,” says Reichenbächer.

But she also notices that barely any customers take the receipt with them when they stock up on sausages or schnitzel. “We throw them all away,” she says.

In a Düsseldorf pharmacy, too, the trash cans are full of white slips of paper, a scene that's probably similar to several other places across the Bundesrepublik, as shown by photos being shared on social networks.

READ ALSO: The complete German supermarket survival guide

'Put an end to this nonsense'

The obligation to give a receipt is undoubtedly controversial. Why? Well, because of the additional cost, bureaucracy and the increased volume of waste.

Economic Minister Peter Altmaier, of the centre-right Christian Democrats, even said there should be some exemptions to the law.

Meanwhile, the Free Democrats (FDP) are demanding that the Bundestag change the law so that they can “put an end to this nonsense as soon as possible”, according to the party's Christian Dürr.

However, the Finance Ministry has not yet been shaken by the pressure.

Photo: DPA

The authority pointed out that the receipts can also be issued by e-mail to a mobile phone. The SPD believes the ball is in the the retail trade's court.

“Businesses are called upon to develop practical solutions to this problem,” said the SPD's Lothar Binding. There are apps, for example, which already exist to digitally transfer receipts.

The dilemma facing retailers is on the mind of  Sonay Sertel, a kiosk employee from Düsseldorf.

“Today there are apps for everything – and then all of a sudden, so much paper.” But when buying beer at a food or drink kiosk, a receipt issued to a mobile phone seems even more absurd than the receipt on paper, Sertel adds.

Fines not planned for retailers

At a medieval Christmas market in Dresden, which is still open in the first days of January, the “Bonpflicht” is not yet in force. 

Managing director Henri Bibow emphasizes that he has nothing against the regulation. But it is particularly difficult to conceal the new cash registers so they don't disturb the market's medieval theme.

A market trader who runs several stands there even considers the obligation to offer receipt to be “impossible”. Up to 18,000 people have visited the market. “It's impossible to hand over a receipt for a glass of mulled wine. We need a special permit (of exemption).”

Whether a special permit is issued or not, the odd trader who doesn't comply with the new law will probably go unnoticed – at least for now.

“There are no plans for tax officials to go out now and check retailers in the field,” the chairman of the German Tax Union, Thomas Eigenthaler, recently told the “Westfalen-Blatt”.

Fines against traders are not planned either. So what can happen if a trader is caught not issuing receipts? Perhaps the tax office will just take a closer look at the tax return and consequences may or may not come later.


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