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Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA)

What is SEPA?

The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) is the area in which individuals and businesses will be able to make and receive card and electronic payments in euro, across Europe, simply, cheaply and efficiently, regardless of their location.

Following on from the introduction of the euro notes and coins in 2002, SEPA is a natural evolution of economic and monetary union and marks a further step towards the creation of a single market for Europe.

What are the benefits of SEPA?

SEPA is aiming to deliver a number of economic benefits and is intended to provide a catalyst for future evolution and innovation. It will facilitate pan-European trade and will help UK businesses compete by making it easier and cheaper to make or receive euro payments.

The launch of new SEPA payment products and services will offer businesses and individuals more ways in which to pay in euro – credit transfers and direct debits as well as ensuring more widespread usage of plastic cards.

The key benefits of the SEPA Schemes are that they provide customers with common rules, predictable maximum time cycles for both one-off and recurrent transactions and certainty that payments will be received without fees deducted from the principal sum.

When will SEPA happen and what will it involve?

SEPA requires the harmonisation of diverse national and cross-border euro payment systems, both at a technical level but also in terms of customer services and procedures. When it goes live on January 28, 2008 the main offering will be the SEPA Credit Transfer Scheme, which will enable basic, non-urgent euro credit transfers across the EU, the European Economic Area countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland. It will also provide a new framework for plastic cards ensuring that they are accepted in more places throughout the eurozone.

A SEPA Direct Debit Scheme, which will enable direct debits in euros on a SEPA-wide basis, is also being developed. However, this relies on the adoption of the EU Payment Services Directive, delays with which have pushed back the launch date to late 2009, by when it is hoped EU Member States will have transposed the Directive into their domestic law.

It is expected that after SEPA payment instruments start to be introduced in 2008 there will be a natural migration of national euro card and electronic payments to these new schemes and standards, with the switch over reaching a critical mass by the end of 2010.

Who is responsible for the initiative?

The European Commission and the European Central Bank, with the support of the European Payments Council (EPC), have championed the SEPA programme. The EPC is the decision-making and co-ordination body of the European banking industry in relation to payments, whose declared purpose is to support and promote the creation of SEPA. It is composed of banks and banking associations from across Europe. Consultation with end users and suppliers takes place via stakeholder forums organised at European level and through mechanisms established within national communities.

How are UK banks involved?

Whilst the UK is a non-euro country and the number of cross-border euro payments to and from the UK is comparatively small, the UK banking industry is committed to making SEPA a reality. We expect that a number of UK-based banks will be ready for the 2008 launch of SEPA Credit Transfers.

These banks account for a UK payment market share in excess of 80%. Beginning in January, customers of these institutions will be able to make SEPA Credit Transfers from their euro-based accounts in the UK to anywhere within the SEPA region. In 2007 the focus for UK banks will be to finish building their new IT systems and to start testing in preparation for the launch.

At this stage, we believe that the creation of SEPA will not be visible to the vast majority of UK customers making sterling payments, as the sterling Schemes will continue to operate alongside SEPA. However, UK-based businesses and individuals who make or receive payments in euros will be affected by SEPA as its geographical scope extends beyond the eurozone.

APACS’ involvement and its role as the UK’s National Adherence Support Organisation (NASO)

To ensure that UK customers' needs are taken into account and that they are not disadvantaged, APACS and its members are actively engaged in the work of the EPC.

The UK EPC Group was created in 2002 under the auspices of APACS to promote a joined-up approach to the UK’s interface with the EPC on SEPA developments. The role of the group is to provide a forum for APACS members to discuss and formulate views on proposals arising from SEPA and to agree strategic and tactical responses, in consultation with a number of interested stakeholders.

APACS is also the UK’s National Adherence Support Organisation (NASO), whose role is to facilitate the adherence of UK-based financial institutions to the SEPA Credit Transfer (SCT) Scheme. Any institution that meets the eligibility criteria set out in the SCT Scheme Rulebook (Chapter 5.4) can apply to become a SEPA Scheme Participant.

The SCT Adherence pack, which includes a Guide to the Adherence Process and a set of frequently asked questions, can be downloaded from the EPC’s website http://www.europeanpaymentscouncil.eu/sepa_sai.cfm along with a copy of the Scheme Rulebook and other key documents. Completed documentation (comprising signed original versions of the Adherence Agreement, Schedule and Legal Opinion) can then be submitted to the EPC via APACS.

Where can I find out more?

Anyone interested in finding out more should speak to their bank or visit the EPC’s website at: www.europeanpaymentscouncil.eu which also contains a list of Registered Participants in the SEPA Credit Transfer Scheme, a list that the EPC will periodically update.

Queries from UK banks about the SEPA Credit Transfer Scheme adherence process can be sent by email to NASO@paymentscouncil.org.uk.

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