"In 2022, 45 procedures were opened for a deeper investigation of complaints about tolls", an official source of the Ombudsman's Office told Lusa.

Among the issues that most led people to appeal for the intervention of the ombudsman, Maria Lúcia Amaral, are the "absence of prior contact by the concessionaire" and " disproportionality of the enforced amount compared to the toll value".

The allegation that the vehicle that made the journey is no longer owned by the debtor is also among the most common complaints.

Changes to the law

The legal regime governing the collection of toll debts has already undergone several changes, the last of which is reflected in a decree-law published in December last year, which transposes a European directive on the interoperability of electronic systems.

Already this year, on January 13, parliament generally approved a bill by the IL that provides for a limit to administrative offenses to be applied for non-payment of tolls, providing that "the total amount charged, under the terms of this law, considering toll fees, fines and any administrative costs, both in the context of administrative offense proceedings and in enforcement proceedings, cannot exceed three times the value of the respective toll fees, without prejudice to default interest".

Motorists whose car does not have an electronic device for collecting toll fees can pay this expense at a CTT station or at a 'payshop' store, 15 days after passing through the gates.

If they do not do so, the law determines that they must be notified by the concessionaire in order to proceed with this payment.

Once these two steps have been completed, the collection process is sent to the Tax and Customs Authority (AT), in which case procedural costs and fines are added to the toll fees and administrative costs, often resulting in much higher amounts.

The right to be defended

In a recommendation addressed to a concessionaire in 2019, Maria Lúcia Amaral underlined that "the right to be heard and defended, is not enough with a formal notification of the interested party, demanding diligence in the procedure destined to assess the data necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the notification, including the updated address of the notification".

The ombudsman also noted that "failure to update the address on the car registration cannot penalize the holder, when he has already corrected this failure at the time when the query to the database would be relevant".

In the explanatory memorandum of its bill, IL recalls that the legislation in force determines that "fines have a minimum value corresponding to 7.5 times the value of the respective toll rate, but never less than (euro) 25 , and of a maximum value corresponding to four times the minimum value of the fine, with respect for the maximum limits provided for in the General Regime of Tax Infractions'", which leads the party to conclude that these may reach a "disproportionate" and "exaggerated" value.