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Disappearing PECs: How lost emails can land you with big fines in Italy

Silvia Marchetti
Silvia Marchetti - [email protected]
Disappearing PECs: How lost emails can land you with big fines in Italy
You'll need to beome familiar with Italy’s registered email (PEC) system. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

Ever get the impression that your important emails to Italian authorities just mysteriously vanish? You're not alone - and a missing PEC can prove expensive and stressful, as Silvia Marchetti explains.

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In recent years in Italy we’ve all had to learn to use a PEC; a registered email to send important documents and messages. It’s been hailed by Italian authorities as a time-saving, equally-legal substitute for registered mail with an eco-friendly impact, reducing the amount and cost of paper and postage.

However, although it has been introduced to help people better communicate with public offices and reduce bureaucracy, PEC can sometimes be a nightmare and is not always reliable. Emails often seem to go missing or never get a response. 

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s PEC email and how do you get one?

It’s slippery ground. When I was fined for speeding I had to send the police office a copy of my drivers license and personal data to confirm I was actually the driver at that specific moment. I sent everything with my PEC to the PEC address on the police document and paid the fine.

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My PEC system said my message had successfully gone through but the recipient had rejected it because their mailbox was full.

I thought that wasn’t my problem.

But last week I received a certified mail from the police stating that I have to pay a new fine of 311 euros because I had failed to send the requested personal data for identification.

I called the police office. In a very impolite tone a woman said it was “weird” they never got my PEC because they “always do”, so in her view it never went through and I should have sent a registered mail. 

So my PEC operator had successfully relayed the message to the correct PEC address, but the sender’s PEC system did not download it. The woman told me that if I didn’t get a “certified relay message” acknowledging police receipt of my PEC message, it was my fault. Practically, it’s as if I had never sent the message in the first place, and got fined because of that. 

“You should have kept re-sending the same message over and over again until you got the OK message from our PEC mailbox”, said the policewoman. 

I tried resending it again four times, including with another non-PEC address, and again I got an auto-reply saying ‘the recipient’s PEC address is either wrong or the mailbox is full’.

Whenever sending a PEC with your PEC you should always get two confirmations, ’sent’ and ‘delivered’ with a green checkmark, just like when upon receiving a registered mail you need to sign before the postman hands it to you so the recipient knows you physically got it. 

With a digital PEC, that signature is the confirmation of ‘delivery’ to the recipient. So if you don’t get the second confirmation, or it does land but says ‘mailbox full’ or ‘recipient address unknown’ (with a red cross), you have a problem - even though the system said it was indeed ‘relayed’. 

READ ALSO: How to use your Italian ID card to access official services online

In order to avoid these risks, the only way to make sure your message reaches its target is to revert back to traditional ‘posta raccomandata con ricevuta di ritorno’ (registered mail with return receipt). It remains way more safe and reliable.

Debating with public employees in Italy leads nowhere. The policewoman cut the conversation short by suggesting I appealed against the latest fine to the local court by writing to the same PEC mailbox which was full. 

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From the way she said it, I had a feeling that such appeals against a PEC email not correctly notified to the police because of a full mailbox or system errors are quite the norm when dealing with fines, and that the police are confident they would be ok in front of the judge.

Several colleagues of mine have had the same problems. A reporter in Molise sent a PEC message to his telephone provider communicating that he had changed residency and was no longer the owner of the land line, but the message did not go through. He only found out weeks later when the operator kept withdrawing money from his bank account to pay for the monthly phone bill. 

Courts have started to tackle PEC issues following appeals by irritated citizens whose emails seem to have vanished. 

However, there are contradictory verdicts over who wins between a quarrelling ‘sender’ and ‘recipient’. While a 2018 verdict by the Supreme Court of Cassation states that the holder of a PEC must keep the mailbox operative and that a message is considered ‘relayed’ even if rejected by a full mailbox, according to another recent ruling the sender must make sure any message to a public office actually lands by reverting to registered mail so as to enable the recipient to be legally notified of it. 

A piece of advice: when it comes to messages involving trials, appeals, or sending payment or proof (for a fine, bill or tax payment) particularly to the police or any other public office involving sanctions, traditional mail will spare you anxiety, frustration and money. 

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erichompe 2022/03/14 20:01
I think you could make an appointment with your local Giudice di Pace. He has the power to suspend that fine until he is able to hold a hearing (which could be months, but so what?). Since no one from the police department is likely to show up for the hearing, he'll probably toss your fine.
jehp101 2022/03/12 09:00
Italian bureaucracy at its finest. Invent a complicated tech solution to a complicated problem to show you are innovative, but end up making the process more unreliable. No other country in the world has an equivalent of pec, yet everyone seems to get on just fine.

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