Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Topical Issue Debate
Driver Licence Waiting Times
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to address an issue that has arisen since the introduction of the new driver licensing service. I welcome the new service because it eliminates the problem of issuing false driving licences, increases the security of the system and makes our roads safer. However, while it is understandable that there were teething problems in the system, there are apparently ongoing delays in the processing and issuance of licences. I previously suggested that applicants should be able to book appointments rather than queue for lengthy periods and I understand that such a system is being put in place. However, it is not possible to book online, as is the case for the Passport Office. I found the website difficult to navigate and I suggest it is not very consumer friendly.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents who have had to wait up to five weeks to have their licences processed and in some cases are unable to obtain insurance because they cannot show a licence to the insurance company. In one case the insurance company suggested it would accept a letter from the RSA stating that the licence was being processed but the RSA told the applicant that such a letter would cost €15, in addition to the application fee for the licence.
I have previously raised the issue of the number of offices in areas of the country. County Mayo, which is the third largest county in the country, has one office in Castlebar and a sub-office in Belmullet. The cost of opening an office has been mentioned but I suggest that the headquarters of the RSA in Ballina could be adapted at minimal cost. The RSA has suggested an average distance beyond which one should not have to travel but, for example, it is Belmullet is 57 km from Carrowmore Lacken and Castlebar is 61 km. Public transport services in rural areas are not sufficient to get people to these places. I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to consider this issue
I thank Deputy John O'Mahony for giving me the opportunity to address the issue of waiting times for the issuing of driving licences. The RSA developed the structure of the new national driver licensing service, NDLS, to consist of three outsourced elements overseen by a specialist unit based in the RSA headquarters in Ballina. The three outsourced contractors are a card producer for the plastic licence, a front office provider to engage with customers and a back office provider to process applications. The RSA held competitive procurement processes for each of these contracts.
In January of this year, the RSA took over in law as the sole driver licensing authority in Ireland. However, in order to allow the new contractors to complete their preparations, local authorities continued to provide customer services for driver licence applicants on behalf of the RSA during a transition period. The RSA assumed full responsibility for the service with effect from 29 October 2013. Early difficulties arose, mainly in the front office service provided by SGS Ireland Limited, under contract to the RSA. There are 34 full-time centres and two part-time centres nationally, and these open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. They also remain open through lunchtimes. These opening times are better and more convenient than the previous service. In addition, applicants can visit any centre, whereas under the previous system they had to go to their own local authorities. The new network provides service to 95% of the population within a 50 km radius.
There were some teething problems following the launch of the new service on Tuesday, 29 October. These included delays for customers in some NDLS centres, faults in the customer helpline on the first day and an IT problem in 12 of the centres on the morning of the first day. These initial problems were identified and addressed promptly by the RSA. However, the target of processing licences within eight days has not been met and there have been similar delays in processing some applications since the new service came on stream. Along with senior officials and advisers I met with the acting CEO of the RSA last week to discuss these issues and how the RSA plans to resolve them. I understand from the RSA that it currently processes an average of 1,800 licences through to card production on a daily basis. This is similar or greater to the volumes of licence applications being received. Backlogs that built up in the first few weeks of service are now being cleared. There is no doubt that the service suffered from a number of teething problems from its inception which contributed to delays. The current backlog of licences relates to approximately 14,500 licences applied for between the 2 November and 12 November.
Some of the front-end processing work was deferred because of the significant pressure the service faced at that time.
The RSA advises me that licences have been produced for 5,700 of those applications, while a further 8,800 are at various stages of processing. They expect to issue a further 5,000 licences this week.
I understand that there are some outstanding applications which will require further contact with customers to resolve problems or seek clarification on some aspect of the application. This work is ongoing, and the vast majority of these cases will be finalised before Christmas. Where no outstanding information is awaited from a customer, the RSA advises that all of the licences concerned will be issued by the end of the first week in January 2014.
The RSA has also informed me that it has advised the Garda of the delays. Meanwhile, the RSA has undertaken to add additional resources and further training to ensure that customers are dealt with speedily and that applications are being processed quickly. They have identified specific locations and areas for improvement, and put in place actions to address these matters.
The move to a centralised driver licensing service is the right one in the long term, and will provide a better service to the public as well as greater security and better value for money. While there have been teething problems in the new system, I have been assured that these are being dealt with quickly and effectively by the RSA. I apologise to anyone who has been inconvenienced by delays in the new system and assure those concerned that it will be sorted out.
I thank the Minister for the reply and welcome the update on how the problems are being addressed.
I mentioned the RSA charging for a letter - because there is a five week delay - to give to insurance companies is an issue that has been raised with me. A constituent, I was told, is being charged because the RSA cannot get the licence out on time. Perhaps that could be raised.
We are all too aware of young people who have emigrated but hope to come back, and some of their driving licences are running out. Under the current system, they can only renew it by appearing in person which means that they must go back to the process, do the test and theory test, etc. We all would hope, I am sure, that many of them will return here, sooner rather than later. Perhaps some way could be devised so that they can renew their licences while abroad for future reference when they are back when we have full employment.
In terms of charging for the letter, perhaps Deputy O'Mahony can give me the details so that I can check it out. If the delay was caused by the RSA or the contractor, not by the person in question, it seems unfair that the applicant would be charged for the letter.
The booking system is not fully up and running but it is coming into place. In the case of those who live far away from one of the existing centres, as I mentioned, 95% of the population live within 50 km of a centre and, by their nature, those applying for driving licences tend to either own or have access to a car. That means there are 200,000 who do not live within 50 km of a centre, some of whom are looking for learner permits and do not have access to a car. When the system settles down, we will have a look at providing additional centres, or, maybe, in some cases, even mobile centres but that would involve a change to the contract.
On those living overseas, I dealt with a query on this earlier. There is a solution to that, and they can apply directly through Ballina. Under EU law, to get a driving licence one must be ordinarily resident in the State but if the person can prove he or she is either studying overseas with a letter from the university or on a contract overseas with a letter from the employer, of if he or she can produce evidence of being resident in Ireland such as a utility bill, it is possible for the person to have his or her driving licence renewed and posted to his or her registered address in Ireland. I can give the Deputy details on that.