Any personalised device(s) and/or set of procedures agreed between the payment service user and the payment service provider and used by the payment service user in order to initiate a payment order.
The Single Euro Payments Area, or SEPA, is an area in which consumers, companies and all other users of payment services can make and receive payments in euro under the same conditions and with the same rights and obligations, regardless of their location within Europe. SEPA covers 34 European countries: the 28 Member States of the European Union, as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco and San Marino.
SEPA is also defined as an industry project and a political process, which both aim to remove the legal, commercial and technical barriers that currently still separate national payments markets.
Consumers and companies will become accustomed to common, basic, similar-functioning payment instruments and services in euro, with which they can reach any payment account holder in order to make or receive payments in euro. Payment service users will be able to compare conditions and quality and choose the most attractive offer, without having to take into account the location of the payment service provider. All payment service providers are subject to EU-wide legal requirements and obligations, mainly under the Payment Services Directive, Regulation (EC) No 924/2009 and Regulation (EU) No 260/2012.
The payments industry is responsible for the creation of solutions to remove technical and commercial barriers in the euro retail payments market. The Eurosystem and the European Commission steer, monitor and foster SEPA’s progress, both at the national and the European levels. The legal foundations have been laid down by new European legislation since 2001 in line with the high-level objectives of Economic and Monetary Union.
SEPA is a long-term project (see timeline). An important milestone was reached on 1 February 2014, the legal end date for migration to SEPA credit transfers and SEPA direct debits in the euro area (there was grace period until the 1 August 2014 for the processing of legacy payments). The deadline for EU Member States with other currencies, applicable to payments in euro, is 31 October 2016. The EU regulations also require the use of certain common standards and technical requirements, such as the use of International Bank Account Numbers (IBAN) and the financial services messaging standard ISO 20022 XML.
No, SEPA does not only cover the euro area. Market communities outside the euro area have also adopted SEPA standards and practices for their euro payments. However, legal coverage applies to the countries within the EU/EEA only.
No, this is not possible. SEPA credit transfers and SEPA direct debits are made in euro. They can only be made for a payment account located in a country in the Single Euro Payments Area. This area comprises the 28 Member States of the EU, as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco and San Marino.
No, SEPA payments can only be processed in euro.
Making retail payments faster, especially cross-border payments, was one of the prime initial policy objectives of SEPA. This objective has been clearly met for cross-border payments: since 1 January 2012, the Payment Services Directive has obligated all EU payment service providers to adhere to strict time limits in the execution of their payments (“D+1”). The impact of SEPA on the speed of execution of retail payments at the national level will, however, be less obvious, as, for instance, the starting conditions have varied substantially across the different countries.
In principle, yes. SEPA companies and consumers are free to choose the location of their payment account; they should, therefore, be able to make their choices based on the level of service and the fees within a competitive European market for retail payment services in euro.
Setting the actual level of charges is at the discretion of each individual payment service provider and is subject to market competition. Transparency vis-à-vis charges for the payment services offered needs to be ensured by the providers: the Payment Services Directive details the information to be given to users before the service is actually used, including, inter alia, information on the processing times and applicable charges.
Regulation (EC) No 924/2009 removes any discrepancies between charges for cross-border and national payments in euro. Payment service providers must apply equal charges to comparable cross-border and domestic payments in euro within the EU. This principle of equal charges was reinforced by the SEPA migration end-date regulation, which has removed the €50,000 ceiling previously set.
The European Commission provides more information on the principle of equal charges. Please refer, in particular, to the FAQs on this page. If you would like to follow up on a specific case or issue, having read the FAQs, two lists can be consulted, one under the national competent authorities link and one under the national out-of-court and redress bodies link.
Regulation (EU) No 260/2012 establishes 1 February 2014 as the official end date for migration to SEPA of the euro area countries and 31 October 2016 for the other EU Member States. From these dates on, all legacy credit transfers and national direct debits in euro will be replaced by SEPA credit transfers and SEPA direct debits. The regulation also requires the use of certain common standards and technical requirements, such as the use of International Bank Account Numbers (IBAN) and of the financial services messaging standard ISO 20022 XML for all credit transfers and direct debits in euro in the EU.
The European payments industry has jointly developed payment instruments that can be used all over Europe. Yet, the market incentives to actually use them instead of national legacy instruments were not strong enough to trigger significant migration to SEPA. For the payments industry, the parallel operation and processing of both national and SEPA credit transfer and direct debit schemes is rather costly. Furthermore, the full benefits of SEPA will only materialise once migration is complete. The Eurosystem and several other major stakeholders, therefore, stressed the need for the establishment of an end date to ensure full migration from national credit transfer and direct debit schemes to their SEPA alternatives.
Regulation (EU) No 260/2012 enabled EU Member States to establish waivers for some specific requirements for a limited period of up to two years. An overview of national options for waivers that were actually enforced can be found on the website of the European Commission. The website of the European Central Bank provides country-specific fact sheets on these transitional waivers, on the competent national authorities and on the penalty provisions.
Reachability refers to the obligation of payment service providers to ensure that any payment account that can be used for sending or receiving credit transfers and/or direct debits in euro at the national level can also be used for sending or receiving equivalent SEPA credit transfers and/or SEPA direct debits in euro.
According to the reachability requirement established under Regulation (EU) No 260/2012, all payment service providers that process legacy credit transfers or direct debits must also process SEPA credit transfers or core SEPA direct debits, respectively. However, reachability for business-to-business direct debits is only optional. The European Payments Council manages the public registers of all participants in SEPA credit transfers and SEPA direct debits.
No, the SEPA migration end-date regulation covers retail payments denominated in euro only.
Regulation (EU) No 260/2012 has made the use of the ISO20022 XML message standard mandatory: i) between payment service providers; and ii) for the bundled transmission of credit transfers and direct debits in euro between business users and their payment service providers; micro-enterprises (with less than ten staff members and a turnover or a balance sheet total of up to €2 million) and consumers are not subject to this requirement.
Member States may waive this requirement until 1 February 2016. Information regarding those Member States that have opted for this waiver can be found on the websites of the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
The Eurosystem publishes a set of quantitative indicators on migration to SEPA.
Please refer to country-specific information and references provided by:
The ECB’s website: SEPA countries (links to national information on SEPA and IBAN, overview of national SEPA fora, national fact sheets on SEPA migration: transitional and penalty provisions, national competent authorities, country-specific migration indicators)
The European Commission’s website: SEPA migration (transitional provisions, competent authorities and out-of-court and redress bodies based on Regulation (EU) 260/2012, meeting documentation of the EU Forum of national SEPA Coordination Committees)
The European Commission’s website: Cross-border payments in euro (application of Regulation (EC) No 924/2009 on cross-border payments in euro and its extension to the Swedish kronor and the Romanian lei, national competent authorities and out-of court and redress bodies)
Under Regulation (EU) No 260/2012, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council have defined end dates for the migration to SEPA credit transfers and SEPA direct debits. Each payment service user and each payment service provider is responsible for being prepared by the migration end dates. Designated national competent authorities are responsible for ensuring compliance with the SEPA migration end-date regulation at the national level. For the settlement of disputes concerning the rights and obligations arising from the end-date regulation between the payment service providers and their customers, each Member State has established an out-of-court complaint and redress body. The Court of Justice of the European Union is ultimately responsible for the implementation and final interpretation of the SEPA end-date regulation. The European Commission is entitled to adopt delegated acts to amend the technical requirements detailed in the annex of the end-date regulation, so as to take into account technical progress and market developments.
The Eurosystem monitors and fosters migration to the new payment instruments. It also encourages the payments industry to further develop its SEPA offerings, making them increasingly more attractive for users. The national ministries of finance support SEPA through the ECOFIN Council and are, in most countries, intrinsically involved in facilitating preparations for and migration to SEPA at the national level, often in collaboration with the national central banks.
Some credit transfer or direct debit transactions require exceptional handling, because one of the parties involved does not or cannot process them in the normal way owing to some external factor or circumstance.
This exceptional handling involves the sending of exception messages called R-transactions because their names all start with an “R”: rejects, refusals, returns, refunds, reversals, revocations and requests for cancellation. Which of these R-transactions is used depends on the point in time in the processing chain at which the R-transaction is initiated or sent, as well as on the party initiating or sending it.
For credit transfers there are fewer types of R-transactions than for direct debits as the latter involves significantly more complex processes. To help straight-through processing (STP) of payment transactions, it is important that all parties to the transactions (payment service providers and companies initiating or receiving bulk payment transactions) prepare their systems to prevent R-transactions to the largest extent possible. Those companies that regularly deal with R-transactions, for instance with direct debit refunds, could even prepare their systems to handle R-transactions. This would allow them to handle exceptions in a fully automatic way and much faster than manually.
The exact definitions and usage rules of R-transactions are described in the SEPA credit transfer and SEPA direct debit rulebooks developed and maintained by the European Payments Council. Further information can also be obtained from payment service providers or from automated clearing houses processing SEPA transactions.
The IBAN (International Bank Account Number) is the unique payment account identifier for SEPA. The BIC (Business Identifier Code) unambiguously identifies the payment service provider. By February 2014, the IBAN will be the sole payment account identifier for national and cross-border credit transfers and direct debits in euro within the EU (by 31 October 2016 for Member States with other currencies than the euro).
Regulation (EU) No 260/2012 requires the use of certain common standards and technical requirements, among them the International Bank Account Numbers (IBANs). The reason for this being that common technical standards are needed to process SEPA credit transfers and SEPA direct debits. They are also necessary to allow interaction and interoperability between different IT systems.
The Business Identifier Code or BIC is an international standard for the identification of institutions within the financial services industry. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has designated SWIFT as the registration authority for BIC.
Both are automatically provided by the payment service providers. The IBAN and the BIC can often be found on individual payment account statements, debit cards or in online banking applications.
The IBAN and the BIC can be found on any of the business documents you receive from your business partner, for instance, on the invoice, but also on the letter head or footer of a letter as well as on their business website. This information must be supplied by the payment recipient to the person making the payment. In order to ensure that the information is made available to customers, Regulation (EC) No 924/2009, Article 4, requires that bank statements show the customer’s IBAN and (where applicable) the BIC and that they provide this information on demand and free of charge. Similarly, invoices must show this information in order to facilitate SEPA credit transfers.
Yes, until 1 February 2014, if required by your payment service provider and if the payment is a national SEPA payment (i.e. between accounts held in the same euro area country).
Exceptions: Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Malta and Portugal: in these countries the BIC is mandatory for national SEPA transactions until 1 February 2016, if required by the payment service provider.
Yes, until 1 February 2016 for cross-border payments (i.e. where accounts are held in two different countries).
Payment service providers in EU Member States with other currencies than the euro can continue to require the BIC until 31 October 2016.
This information is provided by SWIFT: IBAN Registry
An online testing service of the “mathematical” correctness of a given IBAN is provided e.g. by UN/CEFACT TBG 5 Finance under the following website: http://www.tbg5-finance.org/?ibancheck.shtml .
However, this service does not provide information as to whether this IBAN (meaning the associated account) actually exists.
No, there is not.
Every IBAN includes a unique check digit that protects users from making such mistakes.
Core SEPA direct debits (SDDs) can be used by anyone, both by consumers and businesses. Services and products based on the business-to-business (B2B) SDD scheme are only available to businesses, the payer cannot be a consumer, and the payer (a business) is not entitled to obtain any refunds for an authorised transaction.
A SEPA direct debit mandate is the expression of consent and authorisation given by the payer (e.g. consumer) to the payee (e.g. a telecom provider or insurance company) and to the payer’s payment service provider (e.g. a bank) to enable the payee to initiate a debit from the payer’s specified payment account and to enable the payer’s payment service provider to comply with such instruction.
The mandate document must contain a series of mandatory data elements that are deemed necessary to identify the SEPA direct debit transaction: the unique mandate reference, the payer’s name and address, the IBAN (and the BIC, if necessary), the creditor’s name and unique identifier, the type of payment, the date of signature and the payer’s signature. It must be clearly stated that it is a SEPA direct debit mandate. There are no specific requirements regarding the layout to be used.
The text of a SEPA mandate should be written in at least one and up to three of the languages of the country of residence of the payer. If the payee is not able to determine the language of the payer, the text of the SEPA mandate should be written in English.
The mandate reference is a unique combination of up to 35 alphanumeric characters chosen by the payee. It is a reference number given to each SEPA direct debit mandate received, ensuring that all direct debits based on this particular mandate can be identified. The unique mandate reference is part of the required data elements that the payee needs to provide in order to initiate a SEPA direct debit.
Mandate dematerialisation is the conversion of the data from a paper-based signed mandate to an electronic format.
Regulation (EU) No 260/2012 stipulates that existing direct debit mandates that were issued before 1 February 2014 will remain valid after the migration end date when making core SEPA direct debit payments.
No. The mandate is an agreement between the creditor and the debtor and does not require any post-validation by a payment service provider.
The creditor identifier was created in the SEPA direct debit scheme to enable payers and their payment service providers to return to the payee (creditor) for refunds, to make complaints and to check the existence of a mandate upon presentation of a collection by the payee. These procedures require a unique identifier for the payees, such that each creditor identifier only refers to one payee.
No, there is not. The individual SEPA countries have their own specific domestic procedures for providing unique creditor identifiers to payees in SEPA direct debit schemes. The European Payments Council provides an overview of the characteristics of creditor identifiers and their provision in each SEPA country.
The European Payments Council states that a creditor (payee) is free to use one or more creditor identifiers for the initiation of collections in any SEPA country. If a creditor should move its account from one payment service provider in one country to another payment service provider in another country, the existing creditor identifier should be retained; otherwise all mandates in the market would need to be amended for the next collection.
In the core SEPA direct debit scheme, the consumer may request a refund for a period of 8 weeks after the date of the debit of the account if the SEPA direct debit was authorised (see also à SEPA direct debit mandate). Unauthorised core SEPA direct debits can be returned by consumers for a period of 13 months.Requests for refunds in the business-to-business SEPA direct debit scheme, however, are not permitted for authorised transactions.
Yes, at any point in time a payer/consumer may instruct the payee/creditor not to make SEPA direct debits anymore by revoking the SEPA direct debit mandate previously given. Furthermore, the payer may instruct its payment service provider to block any incoming direct debits initiated by a specific creditor.
Consumers may also make use of other blocking options: they are entitled to instruct their payment service providers to limit a SEPA direct debit to a certain amount and/or frequency. They can also block all SEPA direct debits on their accounts (full blocking option) or only those SEPA direct debits initiated by specified payees (black-listing option). It is also possible to authorise SEPA direct debits only if they are initiated by one or more pre-specified payees (white-listing option).
Yes, business-to-business SEPA direct debits can be used for payments between companies and/or self-employed persons. Self-employed persons should be individuals who perform an economic or professional activity (i.e. not consumers).
Yes, SEPA direct debits (or SEPA credit transfers, respectively) can be sent together in a single file using the ISO 20022 XML format, regardless of the locations of the euro payment accounts to be debited.
The execution time cycle of a SEPA direct debit varies according to the type of payment operation:
In addition to this, there is also an option for an even shorter execution time cycle of only one interbank business day (D-1), which is being implemented as a main option in Spain (October 2013) and in Germany (November 2013).
In order to initiate a SEPA direct debit, a creditor is required to provide his/her payment service provider with:
Payment service providers are required to make available to the payer of a SEPA direct debit:
Any further data elements that the payer may require from his/her payment service provider can be delivered by means of a so-called additional optional service.
As a creditor, you should ask your payment service provider which variants of electronic mandates it accepts as part of your contractual agreement on SEPA direct debit (SDD) collections, and what the benefits, costs and risks of these variants are for you as a creditor. Information on national requirements relating to the legal validity of SDD mandates can be requested from the national competent authorities (see the list of national competent authorities).
The choice of the mandate arrangements for SEPA direct debits is important both from a workflow and from a risk perspective. An electronic mandate is usually easy to set up, fast in transmission and low in cost (since it does not need to be printed, signed and returned in paper form). However, depending on the individual circumstances an electronic mandate issued via the internet could also provide less evidence in case of disputes. The identity of the payer is not always fully verified. Verification can, for instance, be ensured by strong customer authentication (especially for new customers). Furthermore, it may be necessary to check whether the payer’s account for which the SDD mandate is issued really exists and whether the customer is actually the holder. This can, for instance, be confirmed by the payment service provider of the payer’s account (e.g. the consumer’s bank).
It is important for creditors to be aware that the burden of proof will lie with them if the payer disputes the authorisation of the SEPA direct debit after a collection. The creditor should be able to prove that a valid mandate for the collection was actually received. Otherwise the collection would be categorised as unauthorised, in which case the payer has a legal right to obtain a refund up to 13 months after the collection (rather than up to eight weeks, the interval within which an unconditional refund can be obtained for legally valid mandates). Proving validity in the event of a dispute can be especially difficult for creditors in the case of cross-border transactions, owing to potential differences in the applicable law. A user-friendly pan-European solution for proof-safe electronic mandates via the internet has not yet been established.
The SecuRe Pay Forum (consisting of supervisors and overseers in Europe dealing with the security of retail payments, such as internet payments) recommends that payment service providers apply as of 1 February 2015 strong customer authentication when issuing an electronic mandate.
The European Payments Council (EPC) has developed the concept of an operating model for electronic mandates that is based on qualified digital signatures and on the involvement of the payer’s and the creditor’s payment service providers. The EPC made it clear that it does not prohibit other types of electronic mandate solution for the SDD; it should however be understood that other types of electronic mandate solution – although legally valid – sometimes do not provide the creditor with full certainty that the direct debit is authorised by the payer.
In many countries, creditors use models for electronic mandates without the involvement of the payer’s or the creditor’s payment service providers. These models can continue to be used for SEPA direct debits under certain conditions (e.g. the German authorities explicitly confirmed the continuing possibility of such practices in Germany, based on the individual contractual agreement between creditor and payment service provider). However, such a practice has implications for the creditor’s risk exposure: if the creditor cannot prove (in the event of a dispute) that the electronic mandate was really authorised by the payer holding the account, the payer has the right to obtain a refund up to 13 months after the collection.
The establishment of a user-friendly pan-European solution for proof-safe electronic mandates for SEPA direct debits could help reduce the risk of such practices for the creditor.
Two European legal acts are of relevance for SEPA direct debit mandates:
The establishment of a user-friendly pan-European solution for proof-safe electronic mandates for SEPA direct debits could help reduce the risk of such practices for the creditor.
Yes, the forms for a SEPA credit transfer do need to contain specific data elements, for instance, the IBAN of the payee’s payment account. Such forms (electronic and paper) are provided by the payment service providers.
Since 1 January 2012, the Payment Services Directive has obligated all payment service providers to adhere to strict time limits in the execution of payments (“D+1”). A SEPA credit transfer must be credited to the account of the payee, at the latest, one business day after receipt of the credit transfer instruction by the payer’s payment service provider. If the instruction is given on paper, the maximum execution period can be extended by one additional business day.
In accordance with the operational rules of SEPA credit transfers, an incorrect credit transfer can either be cancelled or recalled under certain conditions. If a payer has initiated an incorrect SEPA credit transfer, he/she must inform his/her payment service provider as soon as possible. The provider is entitled to charge its customer for the cancellation or recall procedures. It should also be noted in this context that a payer’s service provider cannot be made responsible for the defective execution of a SEPA credit transfer if the payer transmitted the wrong International Bank Account Number (IBAN).
In order to initiate a SEPA credit transfer, the payer is required to provide his/her payment service provider with:
Payment service providers are required to make available to the payee of a SEPA credit transfer:
Any further data elements that the payee may require from his/her payment service provider can be transmitted by means of a so-called additional optional service by the payment service provider.
FAQ notice: Please refer to the official legislation and original texts of the scheme rules for exact application. Unless otherwise indicated, the information given refers to the provisions generally applied in the euro area. Other timelines or differentrequirements and rules may apply in certain individual countries and in Member States with other currencies than the euro.