No discrimination against EU accounts in the SEPA Direct Debit Scheme

The Federal Supreme Court (BGH) has rejected the practice of not accepting bank accounts from Luxembourg in the SEPA Direct Debit Scheme in the context of business dealings with consumers residing in Germany.

Does a trader have to accept only bank accounts of German banks in the online shop?

The defendant operates mail order business on the internet and offers its customers, among other things, the SEPA Direct Debit Scheme as a payment method. However, it was not possible for customers residing in Germany to have the purchase price debited from an account of a bank located outside Germany but within the EU.

Does a trader have to accept all bank accounts in the online shop?

The BGH held that according to Art. 9(2) SEPA Regulation (REGULATION (EU) No.260/2012 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL), a payee may not specify to the payer in which Member State the payment account is to be held, provided that the payment account is reachable in accordance with Art. 3 SEPA Regulation.

The provision obliges traders not to refuse consumers participation in a direct debit procedure offered for payment solely because they specify an account for the direct debit in a Member State other than their Member State of residence. The defendant breached this obligation by refusing to allow consumers resident in Germany to pay by direct debit from an account held in Luxembourg.

Can a trader exclude certain bank accounts in case of suspicious circumstances?

At the same time, the BGH pointed out possible exceptions in the interest of entrepreneurs. The defendant had defended itself in the trial by saying that it would of course accept transfers or direct debits initiated by customers outside Germany. However, if there were certain suspicious circumstances, it would ask its customers to use a different means of payment based on experience.

According to the BGH, this was not the issue. However, it emphasised that the defendant had to take into account the prohibition confirmed by the court of last instance, but could exclude a direct debit from an account in another member state in individual cases if there were objectively justified reasons for doing so. Unfortunately, the BGH did not say what these reasons might be, as they were not relevant to the decision.

What do online merchants have to pay attention to with SEPA direct debits?

In short, you must accept SEPA direct debits from banks in other EU countries if the customer is resident in Germany. In individual cases, you may reject such direct debits, but the scope of application is limited and highly prone to error.

Therefore, let us give you legal advice so that your online business remains safe.

With kind regards

GoldbergUllrich Lawyers 2020

Julius Oberste-Dommes LL.M. (Information Law) Lawyer and specialist in information technology law