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Belgium faces shortage of 10 and 20 cent pieces
Notices asking: “If you pay cash, please pay the right amount” are a common sight in Belgian shops today. The reason is clear – a serious lack of 10 and 20 cent pieces.
Since last December, Febelfin - the Belgian federation for the financial sector - retail federation Comeos and independent business union Unizo have noted a lack of small change, encouraging customers to pay electronically, for example via Payconiq, or with the exact money.
The Covid-19 crisis, war in Ukraine and a resulting lack in primary materials were the reasons given for the halt in circulation – and since then the problem has only got worse.
“Up until now, we could rely on our own and the customers’ reserves. But today, we have no more coins at all,” Quentin Le Bussy, manager of Liège DIY store Mr Bricolage told RTBF.
“Currently, to meet this problem, we are overusing five cent pieces. We are also going to launch an appeal offering small promotions to people who pay with 10 or 20 cent pieces.”
The shortage of 10 and 20 cent pieces also affects the way shopkeepers set their prices.
“This lack of coins is making us round up our prices,” noted a waiter at a popular student bar in Louvain-la-Neuve. “When I started working, it was €3.20 for a 50cl beer.
"First, we had to raise this to €3.40, following a price increase, and then we made the price €3.50 because €3.40 was not possible from the point of view of giving out change."
Naturally, the bank has traditionally been the first port of call to procure more of the magic 10 and 20 cent pieces. But while banks have always offered this service, in practice, this has become more complicated, Le Bussy said.
"Generally we go to our bank every two to three weeks," he said. "There has always been a certain rationing, but the last two times we went, we did not get any coins at all. Our bank simply does not receive any more from the National Bank."
This situation, coupled with the relentless disappearance of local branch banks, means that small businesses all over the country have to trek to the National Bank of Belgium, near Brussels-Central station. And this means being constrained by set hours and by a fixed quota of 10 and 20 cent pieces that cannot be exceeded.
The banking sector confirms this persistent shortage of 10 and 20 cent pieces is continuing. Febelfin said it had always been due to two reasons: the lack of circulation of these coins and the Ukraine war, which caused a severe shortage of primary materials (metal) to make the coins.
But Belgium’s finance ministry argues that there has never been – apart from one and two-cent pieces – as many coins in circulation.
“We have some 4,239,851,549 in total,” spokeswoman Florence Angelici said. “Nevertheless, this large number of coins is not circulating enough and is staying mainly in people’s homes, in their moneyboxes.”
This is an argument for not blindly just making more coins – especially as this has a cost too. “The idea is not to produce coins that will not circulate,” she said, as market demand does not correspond to general use of the coins in Belgium.
Nevertheless, faced with the chronic lack of coins, the Treasury decided in May to order an additional 17 million 20 cent pieces and some seven million extra 10 cent pieces from the Dutch Royal Mint, where Belgium now gets its stocks.
“The current raw parts supply market has further tightened compared to 2022,” Angelici said. “This is due to the disappearance of some suppliers, partly caused by European sanctions against Russian companies which, combined with increased production demand since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, has led to additional long waiting times. This situation is causing similar delays for other euro area countries.”
The Ukraine war has caused delays of up to six months in the production process, Angelici explained. This means that the 20 cent pieces will not be delivered until the end of February 2024 and the 10 cent pieces will not be ready until late March 2024.
To make ends meet until then, the treasury has negotiated exchange and lending agreements with other countries in the eurozone, most recently with Portugal.
Meanwhile, an appeal has been launched for all Belgians to put their dormant change in circulation and to good use when shopping, to help replenish stocks.