If you receive a penalty notice from abroad, you should not throw it away, but study it and check the contents. If you were driving in the country at the time stated, you can assume that the letter is genuine and not a scam.
Enforcement in Germany is made possible by the Act on International Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.
Under this law, foreign authorities can request the Federal Office of Justice (BfJ) to enforce a fine in Germany.
The reverse is also possible, of course, so that foreign traffic offenders who have committed an offence in Germany can also be prosecuted.
A private collection agency from another Member State cannot apply to the BfJ for enforcement! However, many cities and municipalities in the EU use private debt collection agencies to serve fines for speeding, driving in a traffic-calmed zone or parking offences. This procedure is easier for many foreign authorities and is not prohibited. Only the assistance of the BfJ in enforcement cannot be claimed in the collection procedure.
The European system is such that the authority enforcing the fine can collect and keep the money. This means, for example, that if a French fine is enforced by the Federal Office of Justice in Germany on behalf of the French authority, the money stays in Germany. This, together with the administrative effort involved, makes it unattractive for the authorities of other countries to immediately hand over enforcement to the German authority.
Some countries therefore write directly to the offenders and demand payment. They often use a private collection agency, such as Nivi SpA in Italy or Euro Parking Collection plc (EPC) in the UK.
If payment is not made "voluntarily", the foreign authority can still file an enforcement application with the Federal Office of Justice (BfJ) independently of the collection agency. In this case, further fees may be incurred.
The legal basis for this is the EU cross border enforcement directive.
According to this directive, the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA) in Germany must also hand over owner data for various traffic offences to foreign authorities.
Parking offences are not included, but information is usually exchanged here too.
In addition, anyone, including private debt collectors, can submit an enquiry to the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt. The prerequisite for this is that you can prove a legitimate interest, such as the enforcement of a claim for payment due to a traffic offence.
In many EU countries, tickets for parking or toll evasion are not traditional fines issued by public authorities. Rather, they are private claims, e.g. from road operating companies.
If you don't buy a parking ticket or pay the toll, you don't have to pay a fine, but a contractual penalty.
Caution: It is not always clear when it is a fine and when it is a private claim.
The distinction is important: Fines can be enforced with the help of the Federal Office of Justice (BfJ), but private claims cannot. Private claims have to be enforced through a court order for payment or by going to the district court.
Because of unpaid claims, many European municipalities have started to hire private debt collection companies to collect the money, whether it is a fine or a private claim. And it is not unusual for the collection fee to be higher than the debt itself.
So check the fees! The cost of locating the owner is regulated by law and is around five euros.
Additional reminder fees are only allowed if you are in arrears. This usually means that you have already been asked to pay and have failed to do so.
However, it is also possible that you are already in arrears, e.g. if you do not pay the toll at the toll station. In case of doubt, the collection agency or the customer should explain the delay.
If the ticket is valid, don't just throw it away. If you are caught again by a traffic control when you return to the country, you may have to pay extra. Fines of more than 70 euros can also be enforced in Germany!
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.