NI MOT backlog: minister asks officials to look at temporary exemption certificates and testing every two years

Testing every two years and temporary exemption certificates are measures under consideration in an attempt to tackle Northern Ireland’s MOT backlog.
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Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd outlined the proposals during a debate in the Assembly on Monday, March 11.

Minister O’Dowd said: “I appreciate the frustration many customers are experiencing in trying to obtain an MOT appointment and agree there is a need for motorists in the north to have fair and timely access to vehicle testing.

"Today I have announced a number of measures which have been taken and will have a positive impact for drivers in the short term. The DVA currently has 55 MOT examiner vacancies across its network of test centres, it has received 133 applications in its recent vehicle examiner recruitment competition.

Mallusk Driver and Vehicle Agency testing centre. Picture by: PressEyeMallusk Driver and Vehicle Agency testing centre. Picture by: PressEye
Mallusk Driver and Vehicle Agency testing centre. Picture by: PressEye

"It is anticipated that successful candidates will begin to be posted to test centres from early June and this will provide additional capacity for vehicle testing across their network of test centres.

“I have asked the DVA to release additional appointments for these new recruits as soon as possible – 55 new examiners will provide the capacity for a hugely significant increase in appointments in a year and will be expected to have a positive impact for our customers.

“In addition, anyone who cannot secure an appointment before their tax expires, or their tax has already expired, have been advised to contact the DVA customer services team for an urgent MOT appointment. The DVA currently asks customers to contact them within five days of their tax expiry date, but I can confirm that, with immediate effect, the DVA is extending this window to ten days to provide more flexibility for customers and reduce any anxiety.

Urgently Consider

“I have asked officials to urgently consider a range of other policy options including testing every two years and exemption certificates. I will provide an update on these after Easter.”

Statistics for January 2024 show that 83,755 full vehicle tests were carried out in Northern Ireland, which DVA says is 19% (13,085) above the five-year January average (70,670). It is also the second highest January figure in the series, from 2014/15. The agency has delivered 942,784 vehicle tests in this financial year to date.

The backlog stems from 2020 when testing was suspended in January of that year after faults were identified in the scissor lifts across all of the province’s MOT centres. This was followed by the Covid pandemic which resulted in further suspension of services from March 2020.

Mr O’Dowd added: “There are no simple fixes, and I will have to consider the impacts of these options carefully. I do not want to do anything that would add to the burden of hard-pressed households from increased insurance, nor reduce road safety when our current road death toll is already so high.”

The minister thanked MOT test centre teams for their service as they work to manage continuing high demand, pointing out that there were just seven days in 2023 when the DVA did not offer MOT appointments across its 15 test centres. The planned opening of new test centres in Hydebank and Mallusk will provide extra testing capacity for 200,000 vehicles per year.

Last week, East Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA John Stewart claimed the province’s current MOT system in is no longer fit for purpose and called on the minster to carry out an urgent review.

Speaking following an infrastructure committee meeting, Mr Stewart commented; “Everywhere else in the United Kingdom, MOT waiting times are measured in hours, in Northern Ireland they are measured in months. This week we heard from departmental officials that the waiting time was, on average, 72 days for motorists.

Simply Unacceptable

"This is simply unacceptable and rather than reducing since the end of the Covid pandemic, the problem is actually getting worse.

“I think the time has come for the minister to urgently review the current process and at least consider or commission a short, sharp feasibility study into a new hybrid model that will allow car dealerships, for example, to carry out MOT’s on their cars planned for re-sale. This would take thousands of cars out of the system immediately reducing the backlog and ensuring our MOT centres were no longer running to stand still.

“Every single day, I am contacted by constituents who simply cannot get a MOT appointment before their expiration date. They are often not in a position to monitor the booking website all day for a short notice appointment. This often goes hand in hand with their vehicle tax lapsing forcing them to decide whether to drive without tax, or SORN their vehicle. Either option has a potential to have a massive detrimental impact on an individuals ability to get to work or do basic day to day tasks.

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“The reality is that our motorists’ patience has run out. They want a simple common sense solution that will end the backlog once and for all and I believe the private sector is ready and waiting to start providing the assistance needed to do so."

In a statement issued before Monday’s debate, Mr O’Dowd rejected calls for a similar vehicle testing model to that used elsewhere in the UK.

The minister said: “There have been calls for my Department to adopt a similar vehicle testing model to that in Britain, through a network of authorised garages. Let there be no mistake, that is a call for privatisation of MOT services, taking work and jobs away from our valued public servants, I will never support that approach.

"The existing legislative framework here rightly does not provide for vehicle tests to be conducted at private garages.”