Thursday, 19 January 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
National Car Test
4. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps that he will take to address the difficulties that persons are having in obtaining an appropriate date on which to put their vehicle through the NCT. [2608/23]
Driving a vehicle without a national car test, NCT, certificate is an offence under section 18 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. That offence carries a penalty of five penalty points, a €2,500 fine or three months imprisonment. This is pretty serious stuff. We are being told that insurance providers will be pragmatic. Part of the reason there is a backlog is that people are trying to comply. We are told the insurance providers will be pragmatic and understanding. That is not in compliance with the law. We have to hear something other than that this is an operational issue with regard to dealing with this matter.
As the Deputy is aware, the RSA is the body responsible for the operation and oversight of periodic roadworthiness testing under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006.
My Department is actively assisting the RSA in tackling the long-term labour shortages of qualified mechanics which have contributed to the current testing backlog and the corresponding difficulties for vehicle owners to secure suitable test dates. This is a serious issue that is being addressed by extensive recruitment domestically and outside the EU and EEA, and, in the longer term, by training and upskilling programmes, which the RSA has discussed with the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI. These are not overnight solutions but we can expect that real progress will be made in the coming weeks towards a target to return to an average of 12 days by May 2023, although efforts will continue to achieve this earlier if possible. My officials will continue to keep the situation under close monitoring and review through weekly meetings with RSA management.
In the immediate term, there are mechanisms in place to assist vehicle owners to secure a test appointment. I am advised by the RSA that a priority waiting list is in place and that motorists should apply if they require an appointment sooner than those that are available in the public booking system. NCT test appointment slots become available through cancellations or rescheduling of appointments. Customers are dealt with in the order they go on the list.
I am aware that many motorists will have concerns about potential difficulties regarding their motor insurance and not having a valid NCT if stopped by gardaí. Insurance Ireland has indicated that its members will adopt a pragmatic approach where cover will continue to be provided if vehicle owners provide evidence that they have attempted to secure a test appointment before the expiry of their roadworthiness certificate but have been unable to because of the current backlog. Separately, both the RSA and my Department have made An Garda Síochána aware that some vehicle owners have had issues securing an appointment. Motorists should keep a record of their upcoming test date in their vehicle.
As the Deputy has stated, it remains an offence to drive a vehicle on Irish roads without a valid NCT under road traffic legislation. It is an essential public health and safety measure, and an important component of the road safety strategy. Since its introduction, through the detection of defaults such as-----
The contract with this particular company was rolled over for another ten years in 2020. A contract is a two-way thing and they are reaching their contractual obligations. If I were to apply for a test for my own car, for example, the first available date at my nearest centre is 24 August. I had a look nationally at the 49 centres and none of them come in within the 28 days in terms of the information that is published on their website. In fact, nobody has been given what the RSA advertises as a free test if they do not comply with that. Why is that? Who would pay for that? Is that a penalty on the company? Why is it not offering that given that it is on its website? Has the Minister of State asked the RSA about that?
There are really serious issues with regard to, for example, when something goes wrong. If there was an accident, would a non-valid NCT lead to a loss adjuster mitigating a payout? It is all very well saying that the companies will be pragmatic and understanding, but people are not in compliance because the system is not capable of being in compliance.
The current situation is totally unacceptable. That is why the RSA is in a legal process with Applus on imposing penalties on the company, which is not delivering the service that has been contracted to the State. What we are trying to do as a Department is to provide every assistance we can in terms of getting that extra recruitment, whether it is within the European Union or outside of it. The Deputy outlined some test dates that are projected into the summer and beyond. There is a priority waiting list and the majority of cases are provided with an appointment within the 30 days. The Deputy also referenced the free tests. A free-of-charge test will be provided where an appointment can be offered within a 28-day period but there are a number of conditions attached to that, which are outlined in the customer charter.
We are engaging on a weekly basis on this. It is not acceptable that the public service has not matched what is contracted and that is why there is a legal process under way on imposing penalties.
On the broader point, a European directive underpins this. Provision of flexibility and dates being extended are not possible under the European framework.
One of the penalties on companies is that they are required to provide the test free if they are not in compliance. Why is that not happening? Has the Minister of State talked to the RSA about that? Will the Minister of State tell us how many are on the priority list? If everybody was on that list, it would not solve the problem of the lack of personnel to do the job. The priority list is for exceptions. People will want to be in compliance. That is why the lists are so long. People are trying to be in compliance. The worst one on the list was Kells at 42 weeks. Nowhere in the country is good but the top ten are all in Leinster. The Dublin centres are all in that top ten. Carndonagh in Donegal is the quickest of the centres but they are all bad across the country. None are in compliance, according to the NCT.
I share the Deputy’s frustration on this. There are 31,200 people on the priority waiting list. The conditions that apply, I have been informed by the RSA, are that a free test will be provided where an appointment cannot be offered within 28 days, unless any of the following apply: the test is overdue by more than seven days at the time of contacting the NCT service; an appointment was offered seven days or more prior to the test due date; the customer has made specific requests regarding suitable days, times or dates; the customer has declined or rearranged two or more appointments; the customer has failed to attend an appointment; or the customer had previously accepted or requested an appointment outside the 28-day period.
I encourage everyone with a projected test date far beyond their due date to seek to get on the priority list. We should encourage more people to get on that list. That will put the pressure on Applus to drive the capacity and output that is required and that may result in some on the priority waiting list getting a free test if they go beyond the 28-day period.
It is not an acceptable situation. I have reflected that to the RSA. This service is not being delivered as per the contract. Penalties should be imposed. When we contract a public service to a company and it is not delivering, there have to be consequences. It is not acceptable. The service should be delivered to the proper standard. We have been given assurances that it is due to get back to the level in the service level agreement by May this year. We will monitor that closely. It is totally unsatisfactory.