With signs that the two year long coronavirus pandemic is finally behind it, the United Kingdom is breathing a sigh of relief; and motorists are one part of society who will be particularly happy about this. However, for drivers in one part of the UK, the effects of legislation and other factors imposed during on-off covid lockdowns is proving more problematic than in other home nations. Northern Ireland’s motorists have been subjected to an almost perfect storm of difficulties during the pandemic, which will take some months to resolve. In the meantime, many of those motorists could find themselves hit with fines they’re not expecting for offences they could be forgiven for not knowing they’ve committed MOT Backlog.
Lockdown MOT Backlog
Like motorists in England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Irish vehicle owners “benefited” from an MOT test “holiday” during the initial pandemic lockdown in 2020. This was a UK wide mandate which extended current MOT certificates by six months, allowing vehicle owners to have the breathing space needed to book their next MOT test when centres reopened. This holiday had unforeseen consequences, as vehicles sat unused in garages and on driveways for months on end; but this situation was, again, a UK wide issue. The MOT holiday was then cut short, leading to a scramble for test spots in the autumn of 2020 which overwhelmed test centres. However, in most of the UK, the resulting backlog has now been resolved. In Northern Ireland, further problems made this harder to achieve.
In fact, MOT & car servicing stockport testing in the Province had been problematic before the first pandemic lockdown. This was due to safety concerns at test centres; namely, there were found to be cracks in the lifting cranes at many centres. Because of this, only priority vehicles, HGVs, buses and motorcycles were being tested. When the pandemic lockdown and subsequent MOT holiday came into being in March, therefore, there was already a significant backlog in tests for cars and vans.
The use of exemption certificates helped to ease the problem, but this was always going to be a temporary measure. Reduced capacity testing was introduced in June 2020, and this lasted for more than a year, until July 2021. By then the backlog was extremely high, leading to the introduction of an online booking service that September; this, however, was not fit for purpose, leading to more delays and a bigger backlog.
Consequences of Slow Clear-up
Although normal testing resumed in July 2021, vehicle owners are still experiencing long delays in booking their MOT test; anecdotal reports say this wait could be as long as three months. Considering the first pandemic lockdown was in March 2020, this means that many family cars have not been tested for up to three years. Even though there are very good extenuating circumstances, this is not a situation which helps road safety, not to mention that of drivers and passengers in these vehicles.
There is also a high degree of confusion as to whether motorists can drive their vehicles untaxed while they wait for their MOT test. As the regulations regarding tax, insurance and MOT are all linked, drivers are understandably reluctant to spend money renewing road tax on a vehicle they are not allowed to drive. On the other hand, however, many people need their car to live their everyday lives, and are worried they may face fines for driving an untested vehicle, even though they are not actually able to book a test.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is showing a high degree of understanding in the circumstances, which will be a relief to thousands of drivers. However, the fact remains that the DVLA (which covers Northern Ireland) can enforce fines of up to £2,500 for even owning an untaxed vehicle, as well as for driving it. Any such vehicle can also be clamped. However, the PSNI have announced that they will not prosecute for the offence of merely owning an untaxed vehicle; but they will refer it to the DVLA if it is being kept on a public road, whether the vehicle is untaxed or subject to SORN.
The predicament facing thousands of Northern Irish motorists is unacceptable, unfair and has been happening for far too long. The sooner the Province is able to join the rest of the UK in its recovery from covid and its restrictions, with the help of reputable testers like checkmot.com, the sooner the nation can get back to business and the best “normal” possible.