Waiting times for MOT tests have shown little sign of improvement despite extra tests on Sundays and the recruitment of extra staff – and at some test centres the backlog is now even worse.
The long backlog faced by drivers across Northern Ireland was first revealed by the News Letter at the beginning of June and, despite the attempts to bring waiting times down since then, there has been no improvement.
In fact, at test centres including Ballymena, Coleraine and Balmoral in Belfast the waiting times have increased since early June.
Politicians, drivers, businesses and the motoring group the AA had urged the Department of Infrastructure at Stormont to consider issuing some form of exemption for drivers left with no MOT by the backlog.
The department had earlier told the News Letter it was “reviewing” the relevant legislation to determine if some form of exemption could be given.
But now, that prospect has been ruled out. A spokesperson for the department said on Monday: “Given the steps already being taken by the DVA, the department is not considering the use of exemptions at this time.”
The steps taken by the DVA include running an additional 2,500 vehicle inspections across Sunday, June 16 and Sunday, June 23 with plans for even more Sunday openings in the coming weeks, the recruitment of extra staff, and issuing reminder letters earlier.
But DUP MLAs Gary Middleton and Carla Lockhart have urged a rethink of the decision to rule out exemptions for the forseeable future.
Mr Middleton said: “I know there were a number of measures put in place – which has to be welcomed – but I don’t know how much impact that has had.
“I still believe they need to, and have the power to look at exemptions because this is no fault of the drivers.”
He added: “People are being left without their cars. I think the DVA need to look again because it’s been a few weeks now and the problem is still there.”
Ms Lockhart said she would put that point to the DVA.
She recently received a letter from the DVA’s director of operations Pat Delaney, which said: “I do not consider an exemption necessary at this time as I am hopeful that the measures outlined above will help reduce waiting times.”
The Upper Bann MLA said: “I find that response very disappointing. I believe the DVA should consider some form of exemption so responsible motorists are not being unfairly penalised by a problem with the system.
“I will be making further representations to the DVA on that basis.”
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan, a former Stormont minister with responsibility for MOT tests, has said the current backlog is being made worse by drivers missing appointments.
“While I am disappointed that DfI have chosen not to consider a ‘period of grace’ for motorists, the current situation has been somewhat exacerbated by the hundreds of people failing to show up for appointments,” he said.