DVA staff face uncertain future as shutters fall for the final time on Northern Ireland vehicle licensing offices
It was the end of the road for Northern Ireland car tax offices yesterday – but motorists weren't completely driven to despair.
Taxing a vehicle in offices such as Belfast's Gasworks or County Hall in Ballymena has been a six-monthly or an annual ritual for many people.
But now the public will have to tax their car online – a convenience welcomed by many – or visit one of 175 post offices across Northern Ireland.
Yesterday the 'position closed' signs came down for a final time in offices from Coleraine to Enniskillen after the Government shifted the work to Swansea.
In Northern Ireland, where more than 300 staff are affected, workers said there was a "strange, eerie mood" yesterday.
At the south Belfast car tax office in the Ormeau Gasworks, the process of taking a ticket and waiting for your number to be called has now ended.
Polish-born Miroslav Nielipinski (34), now living in the Braniel area of Belfast, said he liked using the office because it was good to speak to somebody face-to-face if there were any language difficulties.
But Eleanor Clarke (49), who travelled to Belfast from Comber, Co Down, to get vehicle tax, said getting her tax done online was more convenient than doing it in person.
"Definitely going online will be better as it will save having to come here," she said.
Rathcoole motorcyclist Andrew Young (43) said: "I think it will take people a while to get used to online as people have being coming to places like this for years."
Margaret Hall (62), from Woodvale in Belfast, said having to go online could be difficult for older people but she said the post office was a good "safety net".
In Coleraine's County Hall – the driver licensing HQ for Northern Ireland, – Amanda O'Donnell, manager of Enquiries Team Three and branch secretary for the Nipsa union, said members of the public had been sympathising with staff. She added: "The general public have been so nice to us but because of what is happening today you can feel there is a strange, almost eerie mood as the afternoon has being going on."
She said there had been no job losses at the moment but there was "uncertainty" as people wait to see where they will be redeployed.
The fear in Coleraine is that some people may have to make 120-mile round trips to Belfast for work.
She said jobs had been funded up to Christmas but after that she feared what might happen.
A Department of Environment spokesman said that originally 344 staff had been affected but out of that, 266 posts were to become surplus and then 40 staff were to be retained in Coleraine.
He added: "Temporary work has been identified which will keep all surplus staff employed up until the end of the year whilst redeployment to vacant posts elsewhere in the Civil Service continues."
SDLP MLA for the Coleraine area John Dallat said: "There is a need to continue the campaign for new jobs to replace the majority of the permanent posts which are now effectively lost."
Swansea takes over full responsibility for all vehicle licensing services from Monday. You will no longer be able to go to a DVA office in Northern Ireland. Drivers in Northern Ireland can now tax vehicles at a post office by telephone or online at www.gov.uk/tax-disc. If you need to tax a car today, you need to go to a post office. Further information is available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/how-you-tax-your-car-is-changing. A leaflet explaining the new system was issued with all car tax reminders from July 5.