Council of the European Union Sounds the Alarm on SEPA

The Council of the European Union (EU) has called on member states, banks and end users to redouble their efforts to meet the 1 February 2014 migration deadline for the single euro payments area (SEPA), amid concerns that companies are failing to adequately prepare.

At its latest economic and financial affairs meeting, the Council – made up of minsters from EU member states – reiterated its backing for the SEPA project and the upcoming migration deadline for SEPA credit transfers (SCTs) and direct debits.

However, the Council observed that some stakeholders seem to be planning for a late SEPA migration and may be exposed to “undue operational risks impacting smooth handling of payments”.

It expressed regrets at the slow pace of preparation in most countries and cited a recent European Central Bank (ECB) report highlighting the particular problems with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and local public administrations, whose awareness of the programme is still “fragmented and the level of preparedness is rather poor”.

These end-users have to get ready for the switch-over, says the Council, warning that payment orders not submitted in the right format from 1 February 2014 may not be processed.

For their part, member states should “significantly intensify communication measures” to deal with “public awareness gaps” about SEPA, concludes the Council, proposing the use of the general and business press, billboards and TV and radio advertising.

Banks and other payment service providers also need to step up their efforts to familiarise end-users on technical, business and contractual issues related to SEPA migration and provide assistance for the move. For a start, individual information letters should be sent out to corporate clients.

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