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MONEY

Why are card payments getting rejected in Germany?

People are currently unable to pay by card in a number of major German retailers. Here's what's going on.

Card payments terminal
Someone makes a card payment using the Verifone H5000 terminal. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Since Tuesday, numerous retailers in Germany have been operating under a cash-only policy after a major brand of card payments terminal stopped processing payments.

The problem was initially announced by the Konsum retail chain in Dresden, who wrote on Facebook on Tuesday morning: “Attention, an important notice for you! Due to a Germany-wide malfunction, card payments are currently not possible in our stores.”

According to the latest information from Focus Online, several branches of Netto, Edeka and a handful of Rewe branches are affected by the issues. There have also been reports of problems at Aldi Nord, Rossmann and DM as well as some smaller, independent retailers and petrol stations.

People who have tried to pay by credit card, debit card or EC card at these places have reportedly been turned away. 

What’s going on?

The problems with card payments seem to be linked to a commonly used card payments terminal from US company Verifone. According to reports, H5000 card machines at multiple retailers and businesses experienced a software malfunction that stopped them processing payments. 

“As things stand, it will be necessary to install new software updates on all H5000 terminals, which the manufacturer will provide as soon as possible,” the payment service provider Payone said.

“The disruptions are ongoing,” a spokesperson for financial services provider Concardis said on Thursday afternoon. “We’re still waiting for updates from Verifone.”

As of Friday morning, there was no indication of when the problems would be solved, but the card payments processor appeared to be working on a solution.

“We will soon provide a software update for our customers to fix the problem and will inform our customers as soon as it is available,” a Verifone spokesperson said. 

READ ALSO: How Germany’s EC card is set to go digital

How widespread is the problem? 

According to Verifone, thousands of card machines at different retailers, petrol stations and banks across the country are affected. The H5000 terminal is mainly used in Germany, they added. 

However, the Association of German Banks clarified that, though the H5000 terminals were completely out of action, this specific model only accounts for a small proportion of all card machines in Germany. 

“Network operators and technical service providers are working intensively on troubleshooting,” it continued.

Payments processing service Payone confirmed that it was facing issues with the specific H5000 card machine and said that the issues were happening throughout the country. 

“Like other network operators, we are currently experiencing considerable restrictions in the processing of transactions with card payment terminals of the type H5000 from the manufacturer Verifone throughout Germany,” Payone said on Wednesday. 

Financial service provider Concardis warned businesses not to try and fix the problem themselves by rebooting the devices since the card machines needed to be connected to the network in order for the problem to be solved by the manufacturer. 

He said Payone and Concardis were in contact with Verifone and were working to fix the problem.

What should customers do? 

Since card payments may not be possible, it’s a good idea for people to make sure they have cash on them when they go to the supermarket or petrol station in the near future. 

ATMs are apparently unaffected by the problems, so people should still be able to get access to cash. 

Customers are also being advised to clarify in advance at the checkout whether card payments are possible or not – preferably before picking out items.

If card payments aren’t possible, supermarkets and other shops are likely to put up signs at entrances or near the tills, so customers should keep an eye out for those. Petrol stations generally put stickers and signs directly on the pumps when equipment is out of order. 

If customers get caught out with no cash at a retailer where no card payments can be processed, they will generally have to leave the items behind – though some cashiers will be willing to hold the items for when the customers return. 

Things can get trickier at petrol stations, where identity cards, driving licences and health insurance cards can be retained in the event that somebody fills up their tank and is unable to pay straight away.

In some cases, the police can even be called.

READ ALSO: What to know about starting your personal banking in Germany

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ENERGY

Germany’s Scholz pledges more relief for lowest earners

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has (SPD) promised to support low and medium-income households as he warned of a difficult autumn and winter amid the energy crisis.

Germany's Scholz pledges more relief for lowest earners

With the cost of living spiralling, the government is working on a new package of energy relief measures that will include tax breaks for low- and middle-income earners, Scholz said during the summer press conference in Berlin on Thursday.

“The government is determined to do this,” he added. “We will do everything to help citizens get through these difficult times.”

Asked whether his focus was primarily on lower or higher earners, Scholz said he was focussed on the people “who have very little”, citing the six million workers on minimum wage in Germany, and middle-income households who have been squeezed in the current crisis.

The measures will target multiple sections of the population “so that no one is left alone, no one is faced with unsolvable problems and no one has to shoulder the challenges associated with the increased prices alone,” Scholz said.

The news comes after Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) unveiled a series of tax relief proposals designed to help households cope with the high cost of the living.

Lindner’s plans include measures to ensure that people who get an inflation-linked pay rise don’t see their wage increase eaten up by higher tax – a phenomenon known as “cold progression”. He has also proposed a hike in child benefit and the tax-free allowance for lower earners.

READ ALSO: Who benefits most under Germany’s tax relief plans?

But the plans have been criticised for disproportionately benefiting higher earners: according to experts, people earning €60,000 per annum will gain €471 a year under the new plans, while those on €20,000 a year will get just €115. 

Batting away criticism, Scholz described the Finance Minister’s tax relief plans as a “good proposal”, adding: “I find that very, very helpful, because we have to put together an overall package that includes all population groups.”

Additional measures are yet to be announced but will likely include adjusting housing benefit in line with the current energy prices. 

The Chancellor also revealed that discussions about imposing an oil price cap to limit Russia’s revenues and relieve consumers were still ongoing.

“We’re discussing the possibility of an oil price cap,” he said. “Due to the high technical complexity, it takes a lot of time, but it’s something we’re working on intensively.”

Limiting the price of oil products is “not something you can do unilaterally”, Scholz said. “It has to be done in close cooperation with partners.”

‘Big failures’

Throughout the press conference, Scholz fielded questions on Germany’s prior energy policy, which saw the country develop an ever greater dependence on Russian gas. 

In February, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Germany was still importing 55 percent of its gas from Moscow – though this has since been slashed to around 35 percent.

For me it’s very clear that we should have reached the decision earlier than we did to change our energy policies and diversify,” Scholz said. “If we’d done that sooner, we’d only have the problem of high prices but we wouldn’t have the problem of energy security.”

The SPD politician, who was Finance Minister under Angela Merkel in the former conservative-led coalition, said there had been “big failures” in energy policy in the past. He said there had been joint decisions in the past on phasing out coal-fired power generation and nuclear energy, but no decisions that had sped up the pace of modernisation in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis to labour shortage: Five challenges facing Germany right now

Chancellor Olaf Scholz

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) admits “failures” in Germany’s Russian energy policy at a press conference in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

This now needs to be corrected, he said.

However, he defended the EU’s decision to avoid sanctions on Kremlin-linked energy giants, citing the heavy dependence on Russian gas in eastern European countries, as well as in Germany.

Germany is in the process of trying to replenish its gas reserves for the cooler months amid fears that Russia will cut off the energy supply in retaliation for Europe’s support of Ukraine.

The scarcity of gas, which is currently flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia at just 20 percent of its full capacity, has led to soaring prices on the energy market. 

Asked whether he thought there could be riots due to rising energy prices, Scholz replied: “No, I don’t think there will be unrest in this country in the form outlined. And that is because Germany is a welfare state.”

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