Residents of France who received fines after driving through London are fighting for answers about how authorities were able to access their personal information.
Debt collection agency Euro Parking Collection (EPC) began sending out penalty charge notices on behalf of Transport for London in November 2022 in relation to the city’s Low and Ultra Low Emission Zones.
These were sent regardless of whether the vehicles were compliant.
Group’s lawyers want explanation
For UK-registered vehicles, Transport for London (TfL) consults the DVLA database to know if they are exempt from restrictions, but foreign vehicles must be pre-registered online.
We recently reported that members of the EPC Official Complaint Group on Facebook were preparing a legal challenge.
The group’s lawyers have now sent letters to EPC requesting an explanation of how it was able to access their personal data.
Léa Marchal, who created the Facebook group and is participating in the legal challenge, said: “EPC has started cancelling fines for vehicles which conform to emissions standards, but this is not systematic.
“No fines have been cancelled for non-compliant vehicles.”
‘Zero legal basis for fines on compliant vehicles’
One reader said he received fines totalling €17,000 for his brand-new vehicle.
He appealed to EPC in late November, and two months later was informed the fines had been cancelled.
“There is zero legal basis to issue or enforce the fines for a foreign vehicle that is emissions-compliant,” he said.
“Had I not been a lawyer and pretty confident of my position after some research, I think that I would have found the whole experience really upsetting.”
‘TfL have thrown us to the wolves’
Those with non-compliant vehicles say they should have been warned after the first offence, and are demanding to know how EPC obtained their contact details.
Sarah Leedam, 65, received nine Low Emission Zone (LEZ) fines of £1,000 each for using her French-registered van when arranging for the sale of her London property.
She said she saw the signs when visiting in May, but presumed there was no problem since she was never contacted.
She heard from them in December, by which point she had already made another trip.
Photo: Sarah Leedam has received £9,000 in fines. She believes she should have been warned after a first offence; Credit: Sarah Leedam
She appears to have been charged the maximum rate for a 3.5-tonne vehicle, and yet her appeal was rejected and the fines have since increased.
“I’m very frightened about this, and can’t seem to get through to anyone who knows what they’re talking about. It feels like TfL have thrown us to the wolves,” she said.
Ms Leedam contacted the lawyers involved and has decided to join the group action.
Low-emissions zone fines are not in EU directive
In some circumstances, it is possible for authorities to fine drivers from other countries.
A 2015 EU directive allows for cross-border information-sharing for traffic offences.
This applies to France and 19 other EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Romania.
France also has a bilateral agreement with Switzerland.
This means if you commit an offence in one country, they will be able to post the fine to your home in another country.
They cannot generally force you to pay the fine, but if you choose not to, this could create problems if you return to the country and are stopped by the police.
It applies to eight road offences: speeding, not using a seat-belt, not stopping at a red light, drink-driving, driving under the influence of drugs, not wearing a helmet (motorcyclists), using a forbidden lane, and using a mobile phone while driving.
Parking offences and low-emissions zone fines are missing from the directive.
‘French DVLA’ says no data sharing agreement exists
Brexit put an end to the cross-border information-sharing between France and the UK, and as yet, the countries have not signed a bilateral agreement to resume this.
A TfL spokesperson said an agreement was recently signed with the ‘French DVLA’ giving them access to the French driving database, but the Interior Ministry’s Sécurité Routière section, which deals with driving-related issues, said no such agreement exists.