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Debt collector of UK fines ‘illicitly’ got data of drivers in France

That is the claim of 102 plaintiffs who have filed a complaint over fines relating to low emission zones in London

Questions have been raised over how debt collection agency Euro Parking Collection got hold of the personal data of drivers in France and elsewhere in the EU Pic: Alena Veasey / Shutterstock

More than 100 drivers living in France have filed a complaint over fines relating to London’s Low and Ultra Low Emission Zones (LEZ and ULEZ).

The fines, often going back months and totalling thousands of euros, were sent to French addresses by the debt collection agency Euro Parking Collection (EPC), despite Brexit ending the sharing of information between the UK and EU.

Some of the fines relate to other offences such as unpaid Dartford Crossing charges.

In total 102 plaintiffs lodged the complaint for “Illicit collection of personal data” and “fraudulently accessing or remaining within a personal data system”, said lawyers Coralline Manier Galas and Romain Binelli, of Woog & Associés, who brought the case before the public prosecutor in France.

“Over several months, we sent formal notices to EPC and TfL (Transport for London), demanding to know how they obtained this data, recalling their obligations according to GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) regulations, and summarising our discussions with the CNIL (French data privacy regulator) and the French vehicle licencing authority.

“They all said that since Brexit, there has been no exchange of personal information with the UK,” said Maître Manier Galas, adding that they did not receive a response.

Their conclusion: “Either EPC, via one of its subsidiaries in Europe, was able to collect the data which should never have made it to the UK. Or there is a mole – EPC itself which had access to the file or a third party giving this data to EPC. In any case, it amounts to illicit data collection,” said Maître Binelli.

Sarah Leedam received nine fines totalling £18,000. Credit: Sarah Leedham

Read more Can bailiffs enforce London ULEZ fines for French residents?

‘Financial and psychological harm’

They have also filed a complaint with the CNIL. Maître Binelli said they would be seeking damages if the collection is shown to be illegal.

“People have either already paid the fines, in which case they suffered financial harm, or they have not paid but suffered psychological harm due to the relentless pressure from EPC.

“Most of these people will have to return to England, and they are legitimately afraid of being stopped at the border, or having their vehicle seized.”

They advise clients not to pay the fines, but to appeal them with EPC by uploading the carte grise, as many people with compliant vehicles have had them overturned. If the appeal is rejected, they say some clients have had success appealing that decision within 28 days at the Road User Charging Adjudicators tribunal.

It is still possible to join the legal proceedings by emailing amendeuk@woogassocies.com. You should provide double-sided copies of your official ID, the fines, and any payment receipts or correspondence with EPC or TFL.

‘We will unleash a legal army’

Meanwhile, Michael Freilich, an MP for Antwerp in Belgium, where there is a large British community, has written to the European Commission to highlight the issue.

Belgian MP Michael Freilich

He says he sent recorded letters to EPC and received no reply. “For me that says a lot, when you receive a letter from an MP you could at least reply.”

The Belgian transport minister confirmed that there was no legal basis for the exchange of licence plate information with the UK, except for special requests made by the police in the case of serious crimes, he added.

He then contacted the Belgian licensing authority asking to see any correspondence with EPC. “They received a letter from EPC requesting access to their database, explaining they have contracts with European countries such as Hungary. The request was denied because it came from a UK company.

Read more French drivers plan legal challenge to ‘massive’ London zone penalties

“After that, the Belgian authority did not hear back, so I assume EPC used a European proxy or partner company to receive that access.

“I have filed a complaint with that authority, and given them the licence plates of people who received fines. They’re investigating which third parties requested access to them. I hope in the next 60 days we will understand where the data leak came from.”

He is hoping EU authorities will take over the case once the Belgian leak is found.

“We will unleash all the legal army we have to forcibly challenge all of the fines. I will coordinate with my European colleagues to do so for the entire EU, asking for repayment of probably millions of euros of fines, asking for damages, suing the European authority that has sent the data illegally to the UK, and investigating if people who paid fines can go to a class action lawsuit.”

He also claims a bailiff representing EPC contacted the Belgian government asking for access to licence plate information, to take drivers to court in Belgium over unpaid fines, a request which was also denied.

The Dutch licensing authority RDW told The Connexion it had carried out its own investigation, which found the data was obtained through the Italian National Contact Point.

“The data was requested under the purpose limitation of the Cross Border Exchange Directive. If we receive such a request from a national authority that has the role of NCP, we are obliged to provide the requested data,” a spokesperson said.

“However, the enforcement of LEZ/ULEZ does not fall within the scope of this directive. We therefore contacted the Italian NCP and at our instigation, they have investigated the matter. They informed us that the authorised users have used the data in an unlawful way and closed the specific accounts.”

‘I don’t see why I should pay’

Sarah Leedam, who lives in France, received nine fines totalling £18,000 for the LEZ – she appears to have been erroneously charged the maximum rate for a 3.5-tonne vehicle, and yet her appeal was rejected.

She will keenly follow any developments. “If this was not legal, I don’t see why I should pay,” she said, adding: “As a French resident but not a French citizen, I don’t have the right to vote, or an MP to turn to. Every time I look at the dossier on my shelf, it gives me a little panic attack.”

A spokesperson for Transport for London said: “All data used by EPC is accessed through the relevant legislative framework.

“The basis for TfL’s request (via EPC as TfL’s service provider) to a national or regional vehicle licensing authority for the registered keeper details would be that there has been a contravention of the above UK regulations which TfL is entitled to enforce.

“It is then the decision of  the individual Vehicle Licensing Authority to release the keeper details providing they are satisfied with the reason behind the request.”

The Connexion asked Euro Parking Collection to respond to this article, but it had not done so by the time of publication.

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