By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) – Italy should introduce a tax on banks to claw back extra profits made on the back of rising interest rates that have not been passed on to consumers, an adviser to the economy ministry told Reuters on Thursday.

European lenders have consistently beaten expectations in recent quarters as higher rates set by the European Central Bank (ECB) to curb inflation have driven profits higher, while leaving savers disgruntled.

Government sources said last week that Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti was working on a windfall tax on banks to fund relief measures for families hit by inflation, which is running above the euro zone average.

Enrico Zanetti, formerly deputy economy minister and currently advisor to Giorgetti, said he proposed a tax on profits stemming from “unilateral contractual changes to the detriment of customers made by banks before the rise in interest rates began”.

“With such a tax, it is physiological that banks would prefer to write off the unilateral changes and give up that part of the profits, because it makes more sense for them to give them back to customers rather than turn them over to state coffers.”

Giorgetti told parliament that the government “cannot and will not” ignore the fact that banks have seen revenues increase due to higher interest rates, but have not adjusted rates on deposits accordingly.

UniCredit CEO Andrea Orcel confirmed on Wednesday that there were discussions ongoing in Italy about a new tax on banks’ profits, but there was no certainty it would be introduced.

In comments to some newspapers, the country’s banking association ABI said any proposed tax would curb financing to families and firms.

Zanetti did not clarify how the levy would be structured, but said Italy should avoid introducing a tax similar to Spain’s that has triggered criticism and legal challenges.

Madrid is planning to raise around 6 billion euros ($6.63 billion) from a windfall tax on energy companies and banks. The scheme includes a charge on net interest income and net commissions above a threshold of 800 million euros.

($1 = 0.9055 euros)

(Additional reporting by Valentina Za in Milan; Editing by Christina Fincher)