The Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce has called for the face value of lunch vouchers to be increased
Photo: Maison Moderne
Teleworking complicates the distribution of meal vouchers in Luxembourg, and since some shops refuse them on health grounds, issuers have started calling for them to be digitised.
Lunch vouchers are the most widespread extralegal advantage in Luxembourg, but they have become a little rarer in recent weeks. This is mainly the fault of lockdown, which has forced some employees to work from home, but also because the issuing companies have had to review their operations, while waiting for the day that these vouchers are digitised.
In Luxembourg, 18% of employees receive meal vouchers as part of their salary package, according to 2019 Statec data. The market is shared between Sodexo, which claims 55,000 beneficiaries in Luxembourg, and Edenred, which has 23,250 beneficiaries. Note that these issuers also produce other variants, such as gift vouchers. What do they have in common? Tax exemption for purchases made with these vouchers.
1. I no longer receive meal vouchers. Is this serious?
The coronavirus has affected all companies, even the issuers of lunch vouchers. After a three-week stoppage at the beginning of the lockdown, they have since restarted deliveries to their customers, but "we no longer had the same delivery volume," said Sylvie Favaut, managing director of Sodexo in Luxembourg.
Faced with sometimes empty offices, the operators have redirected the shipments to the homes of payroll managers, who are then responsible for forwarding them to employees. If hand delivery of lunch vouchers to staff in the office was common before the pandemic, it is less so now, given the use of teleworking. For this reason, mailing or picking up at the office after the return is made are currently the preferred options.
2. My lunch cheques are being declined. Is this legal?
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, some supermarket chains have refused payment by lunch vouchers for health reasons. “There is no obligation to accept meal vouchers,” confirms Claude Bizjak, deputy director of the CLC. On the issuers’ side, Edenred managing director for Belgium and Luxembourg Olivier Bouquet said that “cash circulates much more in the hands than meal vouchers, which are nominative, for example.”
3. I will receive my lunch vouchers when I get back to the office. Will they still be valid?
No problem, a priori: in Luxembourg, these vouchers work by vintage. The current one is valid until 28 February 2021. So there is still room to spend your lunch vouchers once you return to the office. “The problem in Belgium and France is different, because the validity period is often more limited," said Bouquet.
4. Lunch vouchers have become increasingly rare in recent weeks. Is this true?
In addition to the fact that some businesses no longer accept this means of payment, restaurants have reduced their activities to take-away sales, or even turned off their stoves completely, while waiting for the government’s green light to reopen. It is therefore not surprising to see the volume of meal vouchers decreasing in Luxembourg. Nevertheless, “we still provide refunds for restaurant owners,” points out Favaut. And then, as some of the employees are working from home, the opportunity to spend the vouchers is becoming rarer.
5. I'm a cross-border worker. Can I spend my lunch vouchers in my country of residence?
No. Lunch vouchers are only valid in their country of issue, because they are tax-free. “The tax exemption is territorial,” said Favaut, pointing out that the system was designed to “support the economy of the issuing country.”
6. When will digital lunch vouchers be available?
“Our clients are asking for digital, as are the merchants,” said Bouquet, who notes that the logistical difficulties in delivering meal vouchers during a period of lockdown could be a distant memory if these vouchers were reloaded onto a smart card, as is the case in Belgium, for example. “We're working on this modernisation project, and of course we hope to make progress, but this coronavirus has stopped everything,” added Favaut.
7. Could the value of the cheques increase?
Since the tax reform of 2017, the face value of vouchers has increased to €10.80 instead of €8.40. But some companies have not made this change, as adding in the increase was left to their own discretion. At the end of April, the Chamber of Commerce recommended increasing the face value of meal vouchers in return for a public subsidy to support consumption in the context of the covid-19 crisis. It remains to be seen whether the message will be heard by the government.
8. What does the finance ministry think?
“There have been some reflections, but apart from that, there has not really been a project of reform,” the ministry said. “With the crisis [of the coronavirus], it's not a priority at the moment,” an internal source added. The system of lunch vouchers is governed by a grand-ducal decree, which must therefore be modified if the system evolves.