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

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.

Disappearing PECs: How lost emails can land you with big fines in Italy
Italy’s registered email system is not always the cheap and convenient solution it was hoped to be. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

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.

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. 

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. 

Member comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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Why is it taking so long to book a driving test in Italy?

People trying to sit their driving tests in many parts of Italy are reporting long delays when booking their theory or practical exam. The Local looks at why this is happening.

Why is it taking so long to book a driving test in Italy?

Getting an Italian driving licence (or patente di guida) isn’t exactly a piece of cake, especially for foreign residents, who, besides familiarising themselves with the national Highway Code, must also achieve a high level of Italian language proficiency before taking the test.

But the process has become more of a challenge over the past few months for candidates experiencing long waiting times – up to five months in some cases – when booking their theory or practical tests.

READ ALSO: Who needs to exchange their driving licence for an Italian one?

As many local licensing offices (Uffici di Motorizzazione Civile, which are roughly equivalent to the UK’s DVLA or the US DMV) fail to explain these delays, candidates are left wondering what the problem is. 

The short answer is that Italy’s licensing department is facing critical understaffing problems, which, by the look of things, aren’t going away anytime soon. 

“The problem is national,” Emilio Patella, national secretary of Italy’s main driving schools’ union UNASCA, tells The Local.

“The size of the [licensing department’s] current workforce is half of what it was ten years ago, or half of what it should be on a regular basis.”

READ ALSO: Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

Cars line up to cross the Italian-Swiss border

People taking their practical driving tests in Como face a waiting time of 140 days on average. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

This means that, presently, there simply aren’t enough employees around to meet the market’s demand – a situation which is the result of “over 20 years where few to no hirings were made”, according to Patella.

Not all local offices are currently registering gigantic delays, with waiting times varying from area to area based on demand and the number of staff available.

Regions in the north-west and north-east of the country – especially Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna – are bearing the brunt of the national crisis.

Como has the worst-affected office in the country, Patella says, with the average waiting time for candidates looking to take their practical test standing at 140 days (or well north of four months).

Other cities experiencing long delays include Brescia, Bergamo, Milan, Turin, Vicenza, Verona, Piacenza, Parma, and Reggio Emilia.

Katherine Sahota, a British national living in Brescia, has been trying to book her theory test since September, but says there have been “little to no appointments available” in the area.

While being denied the opportunity to book a test is sufficiently frustrating in and of its own, the issue is particularly pressing for Britons in Italy at the moment.

READ ALSO: ‘So stressful’: How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple’s Tuscan dream

The 12-month grace period allowing British nationals to drive across Italy on UK licences is due to expire on December 31st and, with negotiations over a reciprocal agreement between Italy and the UK showing no sign of progress, many British nationals have chosen to get an Italian driving licence.

But the delays affecting many licensing offices across Italy are already undermining their efforts and mean it’s unlikely some residents will be able to get their licence before the deadline.

Sahota might just be one of them. 

“It is a helpless situation not being able to plan anything,” she tells The Local.

“I don’t think they understand how this affects the lives of people who need to drive for work, for families, for their own freedom of movement.”

Sahota’s situation, and that of many others across the country, isn’t being helped by the inherent nature of the Italian licensing system, which is built on a series of tight, consecutive deadlines. 

Red Vespa motorcycle and vintage Fiat

The Italian licensing system is based on a series of tight deadlines, which make candidates susceptible to even the shortest delays. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

After submitting a request to take the test, candidates have six months to pass the theory exam, within a maximum of only two attempts. They then have 12 months and a total of three attempts to pass the practical exam. 

Also, those who have to resit either exam can only do so at least a month after the failed attempt.

As a result of this, even a waiting time as ‘short’ as two months might keep a candidate from being able to retake an exam within the set timeframe. If this happens, the candidate has no choice but to re-enrol and pay all the enrolment fees again.

Several reports of residents not being able to retake an exam through no fault of their own have emerged over the past few weeks. 

Stefano Galletti, president of Bologna’s UNASCA office, said last week that candidates in the city “can barely take an exam” in the given time span, with longer-than-usual waiting times often keeping people from retaking in case of failure.

READ ALSO: Some of the best learner sites for taking your Italian driving test

While hiring more examiners looks like the solution to the problem, but increasing the Italian licensing department’s workforce might not be as straightforward as many would think. 

According to Patella, the Italian government will have to either implement a special hiring policy known as ‘piano straordinario’ – an option which, he says, hasn’t been considered so far – or delegate tasks to employees of other national agencies in order to fill the current gaps. 

But, even if one of the above measures were to be put into effect, Patella believes that “we would only manage to get back to a normal state of things in around three years” – that’s also because “being an examiner is not a very sought-after job and few people are still willing to do it”.

In the meantime, residents facing delays can get in touch with the Italian licensing department’s support centre to report their issue or ask for guidance. 

It’s also worth noting that residents are allowed to sit their driving tests in a province other than the one where they reside. 

However, if the province where they choose to take the test doesn’t border that in which they are resident, the licensing office can ask candidates to give a valid reason for the choice and to provide additional documentation.

For further information, contact your local licensing office (Uffici di Motorizzazione Civile). Find details of your nearest office here