Card payment refund scheme aims to wean tax-dodging Italians off cash

Millions of Italians have signed up for a government scheme offering a 10pc refund for card payments in stores in just two weeks in an attempt by Rome to cut tax evasion and boost retailers hit by coronavirus restrictions.

The roaring start to the scheme, which requires downloading an app followed by a lengthy registration process, comes in stark contrast to Italians’ lukewarm response to the simpler Immuni app launched in June to trace Covid infections.

The so-called “cashback” plan will officially kick off next month but the pilot programme from Dec 8 to the end of the end, which allows savings of up to €150, has already attracted a tenth of the adult population.

“Over 5m subscriptions is no small feat,” said Leonzio Rizzo, a professor of public finance at the University of Ferrara, told Reuters.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government believes that weaning Italians off cash can reduce rampant tax evasion, estimated by the Treasury at about €110bn a year.

Digital payments, unlike notes and coins, are harder to hide from the taxman.

However the programme has its critics, including the European Central Bank, which said last week that governments should take a neutral approach to means of payments and complained it had not been consulted.