Service of Documents Act (ZustG)
The Service of Documents Act governs the delivery of all documents, such as administrative rulings, which administrative authorities are required by law to send out.
In the electronic world and paper world alike (§3, ZustG), a differentiation is made between deliveries that require proof of delivery, by which the recipient confirms the delivery with a signature, and deliveries where no proof is required.
Proof of delivery (§35 ZustG) is usually carried out by an electronic delivery service. This service is available from delivery service providers that have been officially approved by the Federal Chancellor. It allows customers (citizens and businesses who want to use electronic delivery) to register with their citizen card to confirm that they want to receive documents from public authorities using an electronic delivery service. There are many such delivery services to choose from, which are published in a list by the Federal Chancellor on the Web. Registering with one delivery service is sufficient in order to receive documents from public authorities. However, neither citizens nor public authorities are currently obliged to use an electronic delivery service if they do not wish. When an authority sends a document using an electronic delivery service, the recipient (if registered at an electronic delivery service) is notified up to two times by electronic means (e.g., by e-mail or SMS) that a document is ready to be collected. A third notification that an electronic document is awaiting collection can also be sent out by post if the recipient has specified a physical mailing address. The delivery is confirmed at the latest when the document is picked up by the recipient. Proof of delivery is only verified after the collection of the document is confirmed using the recipient’s citizen card, or when an explicit agreement exists that allows documents to be picked up automatically using an automated signature. However, confirmation of delivery is also made even if the document is not picked up by the recipient.
For cases when an application form is sent and received in the same session of a Web application (e.g. register queries) and the recipient is using the citizen card, proof of delivery for the document that was received is confirmed by “immediate electronic delivery“ according to §37a of the ZustG.
Electronic deliveries without proof of delivery can be confirmed nonetheless using the above-mentioned methods (“electronic delivery service” with “immediate electronic delivery”, although it is not necessary for the citizen card to be used with the latter), or using the “electronic communication system of the public authority” or an “electronic delivery address”.
As per §37 of the ZustG, before documents can be delivered using an individual “electronic communication service from the public authority” (e.g., systems such as the Databox in FinanzOnline), a delivery using an electronic delivery service must be attempted first. Only afterwards are deliveries allowed to be sent out to recipients that are registered on the public authority’s system. This includes cases in which an electronic delivery service cannot be used because the recipient is not registered with one.
Electronic delivery is allowed in cases where the recipient specifies an e-mail address to the public authority as his or her “electronic delivery address” during a single or concurrent procedure (§ 37 ZustG). However, the use of this e-mail address without a renewed confirmation is not allowed for any other procedures which are carried out later.