NI motorists being fined £80 for untaxed vehicles despite being unable to renew tax due to MOT backlog

A UUP politician has deemed the current MOT wait in Northern Ireland as “utter madness” following news that drivers here have been issued £80 fines for “non-tax compliance” through “no fault of their own”.

lieve Croob councillor Alan Lewis has called on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to apprise itself of MOT issues within Northern Ireland.

“In Northern Ireland you must have a valid MOT certificate in order to tax your vehicle. As a result of the Covid lockdown restrictions there is an enormous MOT backlog,” he said.

“Although motorists are happy to backdate any owed tax, the DVLA has been issuing £80 fines through a third-party debt collection company, meaning motorists, through no fault of their own, are being penalised for something which is far beyond their control.

“Since the beginning of lockdown, vehicle owners have reported difficulties in securing an MOT date before or near their renewal is due. Some are waiting months before appointments become available.

“The previous infrastructure minister was well aware of these issues — why wasn’t more done to communicate with the GB-based DVLA to avoid penalising motorists?” he continued.

“Constituents have been advising me that they are waiting months for an appointment, with one lady saying her MOT is up in July, yet she’s unable to secure an appointment until October.”

MOT tests are a legal annual requirement for all motorists, as a means to determine if cars are safe to stay on the roads. In Northern Ireland, the tests are carried out at Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) centres, which come under the remit of the NI Department for Infrastructure.

However, car tax is covered by the UK DVLA, which isn’t devolved, and motorists cannot get their vehicle taxed without first passing their annual MOT tests.

When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph to ask if the DVLA was aware of MOT delays in Northern Ireland and if the agency will be retracting these fines, a spokesperson said: “By law, every vehicle registered in the United Kingdom must be taxed before being used or kept on a public road.”

When again informed that drivers cannot tax their cars without an updated MOT status and that, in some cases, motorists are waiting as long as six weeks past their MOT due dates for a rescheduled test here, the spokesperson said that, in cases where drivers cannot tax their cars, they can “declare their vehicle off the road (or SORN)”.

“Where a vehicle has not been taxed but the keeper has not declared it off the road (SORN), we can take enforcement action. Also, if an untaxed or SORN vehicle is seen on the public road, enforcement action can be taken,” they added.

A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said that motor tax “is an excepted matter and is administered and enforced by the DVLA in Swansea on behalf of HM Treasury” and that “the department has no authority or influence with the DVLA on these matters”.

They advised vehicle owners who require an MOT to tax their vehicle and who cannot secure a date before their MOT expires “to book the earliest available appointment and keep checking the booking system for an earlier appointment”.

“If they get to within five days of the expiry date of their vehicle tax and they have been unable to secure an MOT appointment or their vehicle tax has expired, they should contact the DVA customer services team at dva.customerservices@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk and they will do their best to get an urgent appointment for the vehicle,” the department commented.

“To date, all customers who have contacted the DVA in these circumstances have been offered an earlier appointment slot.”

The spokesperson said that the DVA here “has steadily increased its vehicle-testing capacity to pre-Covid levels by adopting a range of measures including the recruitment of additional vehicle examiners, the use of overtime to provide cover for leave, and by offering vehicle test appointments on a Sunday and bank holidays, when testing is not normally available”.

Alliance Party’s infrastructure spokesperson Andrew Muir believes it is a “complete shambles” that, in some cases, people are having to wait up to five months for an available MOT test.

“Each week I am contacted by individuals who are struggling to obtain an appointment for their MOT, being forced to travel miles upon miles to a test centre not local to them, or being left unable to drive as their insurance provider won’t cover them without a valid MOT,” said the North Down MLA.

“This is now a complete shambles. I will continue to press the issue with the minister and request he acts to extend the reminder letter notification period for those awaiting their MOTs. It is hoped this will give drivers ample time to book their tests and, together with a concerted plan to ensure test centres are fully resourced, play a significant role in alleviating this problem.”

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