The Driver and Vehicle Agency is to begin accepting MOT appointments on Sundays in a bid to clear waiting times of around two months across Northern Ireland.
The lengthy backlog for MOT tests has been labelled “ridiculous” by the UUP MLA John Stewart, “farcical” by the former minister Mark H Durkan, and “unfair” by the Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong.
The long waits faced by drivers across Northern Ireland was first brought to public attention by the News Letter last weekend.
Now, after a series of questions to the Stormont department responsible, the possibility of “temporary exemption” for affected motorists could be on the horizon.
The Department of Infrastructure has said, after repeated questioning from the News Letter, that it is now “reviewing the current legislation” to find out if exemptions can be issued.
The PSNI, meanwhile, confirmed earlier this week that it is in talks with the DVA about whether officers should exercise “discretion” for motorists caught out by the long delays.
The department has pinned the blame on an “unprecedented” increase in the number of appointments being made this year.
On the MOT booking website last night, almost every one of the 15 testing centres in Northern Ireland was fully booked for around two months.
A spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure told the News Letter: “A number of measures have already been put in place to reduce the current waiting time for test appointments, such as the recruitment of additional vehicle examiners, and a number of test centres will now be open from Sunday, June 16.
“The department will make an announcement on Friday as to which centres will be open and release the additional appointments to the public.”
Asked what consideration has been given to issuing temporary exemptions for those whose MOT certification has expired but are unable to secure a test due to the current backlog, the spoksperson said: “As a contingency, the department is reviewing the current legislation to determine under what circumstances a temporary exemption may be issued.”
Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan, who was Northern Ireland environment minister when that department had responsibility for MOT testing and vehicle licensing, said: “There should be scope there for the department to take action.
“The situation is ridiculous, a farce. You have people all over who, through no fault of their own, can’t drive because of this.
“We’re talking about carers, people who rely on their cars to make a living, and ordinary people in their day-to-day life.”
UUP MLA John Stewart said: “I went online myself this afternoon again to check the latest position and there were several test centres offering their closest availability well into August. The current delays are ridiculous.
“Whilst the PSNI have an immediate role to play by adopting what would be a very common sense approach by allowing temporary exemptions, the reality is that the wider problem remains a Department for Infrastructure issue.”
Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said: “The department should have seen this coming. They should have access to figures showing the number of car sales, and at the end of the day they are the ones issuing the reminder letters so they should have known well in advance how many cars were due for an MOT.
“It is very unfair that people who have done nothing wrong are being penalised.”
The Department of Infrastructure said the DVA is now issuing reminder letters nine weeks in advance, and is advising customers to book an appointment as early as possible to avoid delays.