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Tax authorities clamp down on lunch card misuse

Tax authorities are finding lunch cards problematic, as these are used to pay for expenses other than meals, and businesses are often unaware that this constitutes misuse. In an attempt to combat misuse, authorities are to step up their monitoring of lunch card use from the start of the coming year.

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Lunch cards should only be used to pay for one meal per working day. Image: Yle

Tax authorities are intent on bringing an end to unauthorized use of lunch cards. Up to now, many have used the card for purposes other than the assigned one meal per working day, while the owners of many restaurants, cafes and shops are unaware that they too are bending the rules by allowing purchases with the cards.

From the point of view of tax authorities, using the card for anything else than the meal per day amounts to misuse of a lunch benefit.

Many employees have used their lunch card to pay for other goods – including alcohol – and have even given the card for others to use.

To bring an end to such illicit practices, tax authorities have drawn up detailed instructions relating to lunch cards and lunch vouchers, which come into effect at the beginning of 2014. The use of lunch cards will also be more closely monitored in the future.

However, the instructions carry little new information; the major change is to make these guidelines more visible in public spaces.

“Earlier businesses that offered lunch vouchers followed the instructions relating to these fringe benefits. But now lunch cards have come to the market, and the marketing of these has been aggressive,” says tax inspector Janne Myllymäki.  

The cards hit the market at the start of 2012. Until very recently, these were not used all that much.

Misuse as credit cards

With lunch cards, the employer transfers funds onto the card to be used by their employee. Problems arise from the fact that credit can be accumulated on the card by purchasing cheap meals over a period of time.

“Another problem with lunch cards is that the demand for focusing the benefit for personal use has not always been observed,” Myllymäki says.

At present, it is possible to buy food from shops with lunch cards or vouchers.

Lunch vouchers will also undergo a change at the start of the coming year. Imprinted on the vouchers will be the user’s name or other identification, which can be used by food sellers to check that the voucher is indeed being used by someone entitled to it. However, identity checks are to remain exceptional in the future.

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