Monday, 15 September 2008

Do You Need To Pay Your Fines?

It's a rare luxury these days for me to read a newspaper.

And one of the nicer ways to do so is in a cafe.

But on Saturday I happened to be in a cafe with a group of friends, so talked instead of reading. But on the way out I noticed a headline, and had a very quick look at one of the papers that Costa Coffee in Newbury provide for their customers to while away the hours.

The paper was The Guardian, and the article, on the front of their 'Money' section, was about people returning from continental holidays to be greeted with notification of fines.

Were they 'real', did they have to pay?

Well, although there have been 'fines' scams, it seems that genuine fines are being followed up - in some cases for offences committed some considerable time earlier.

The article explains:

EPC legal manager Stuart Hendry says it sends a translated charge notification to the UK address it obtains from the DVLA. He says that no matter where the offence occurs drivers have the same appeal rights as a UK domestic offender. If the driver ignores it, the notice goes back to the issuing authority, which then decides whether to begin cross-border legal action. Hendry admits that few authorities will be bothered to pursue a single fine.

"If you don't pay a notified fine, the legislation is in place to enforce these fines in most countries, but it's a question of practicality and whether it's financially worth pursuing." That suggests you can safely ignore it - but beware that it may be treated as a criminal offence and your details held in the country concerned. Ultimately, your car could be seized on your return.

Tim Shallcross, head of technical policy at IAM Motoring Trust, says: "If I knew I'd committed an offence abroad, even unwittingly, and I wanted to return to that country later, personally I wouldn't chance it. I'd pay the fine."

In Delaney's case it looks like he has a strong case for refusing to pay. According to Hendry, authorities in most European countries are obliged to send a notice within 12 months of the alleged incident.

Won't the hire car company simply take it off my credit card? Yes and no. It's down to individual car hire contracts and local legislation. In the UK, if you are caught, say, in a bus lane, the liability to pay rests with the hire company, according to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association. It will pay up as soon as it receives the charge, then claim it back off the credit card used for the booking. But if the offence is speeding, then the car hire company sends the details of the hirer for the police to pursue. It's likely that, in Italy, the hire companies were obliged to send address details to the police rather than take fines off the hirer's credit card.

Why are the fines coming from Italy and not France or Spain? It's another legal peculiarity. In France, Spain and Germany the police cannot outsource the collection of fines, so they can't obtain data from the DVLA. But that's not a licence to drive like a lunatic in those countries; on-the-spot fines are far more prevalent than in the UK.

What about all those Europeans over here? I bet they never pay fines. Wrong. Euro Parking's biggest client is Transport for London (TfL), and since 2005 has chased European drivers for unpaid congestion charges.

A TfL spokesperson says EPC regularly recovers around 40% of the penalties issued.

But looked at another way, that means the drivers of six out of 10 foreign-registered vehicles don't cough up. The Germans, it seems, are the worst. There are nearly 30,000 unpaid congestion charge notices against German vehicles, followed by Poland (15,376) Italy (11,846) and Spain (9,493).

Full story


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