All MoT tests for cars and light vehicles have been suspended “with immediate effect”, the Department for Infrastructure announced last night.
The shock move comes after issues were raised with vehicle lifts at test centres.
Paul Duffy, chief executive of the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA), said in a statement last night that following further inspections of lift faults at MoT centres, the contractor had not provided sufficient assurances on the effectiveness of the ongoing repairs.
Tests on heavy good vehicles and buses will continue.
Anyone scheduled for a car or light vehicle MoT today has been told not to attend.
Mr Duffy said the “precautionary measure” had been taken to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon held an urgent meeting with officials this evening in relation to the matter.
The DVA has said that all customers, except customers with four-year-old vehicles and taxis, will be automatically issued an MoT exemption certificate and therefore can continue to drive.
The exemption will be recorded in the DVA system and a hard copy will arrive by post in the coming days.
Mr Duffy said: “For customers with four-year-old vehicles and taxis, we are working to urgently find a solution to get these vehicles through MOT and will contact customers directly.
“The DVA will issue a further statement as a matter of urgency to advise these customers and those who have MoTs booked for later this week. We want to advise customers that more cancellations are very likely.
“The DVA recognises the considerable inconvenience and disruption this will cause for many people and sincerely apologises that it has been unable to rectify this situation more quickly.
“Given the urgency of this situation, we are asking the public to follow media, social media channels and nidirect for updates. Staff will also be kept fully informed by their centre managers.”
Earlier, Ms Mallon had refused to say if compensation will be provided to those affected by cancelled MoT tests to pay for hire cars.
She was also unable to give a timeframe as to when the situation will be resolved, but said she was taking steps to ensure it would not happen again.
Around 5,000 tests have already been cancelled after signs of cracking were uncovered in 48 of 55 vehicle lifts at MoT centres across Northern Ireland.
Inspections and repairs are currently being carried out, with Ms Mallon issuing temporary four-month exemptions to affected drivers.
Those who had an appointment cancelled will also be refunded half of the test fee and given a free test.
Asked if compensation will be paid out to drivers who have to hire a car due to their MoT certificate expiring as a result of a cancelled test, the minister said she was restricted in what she could do.
“I have to operate within the legislation and I absolutely understand the disruption that’s been caused to people. You mentioned people that are working class and are struggling to make ends meet — that’s why I got into politics,” she told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show.
“In term of compensation, I have to operate within the legislation, this is public money.
“I have considered compensation, but what are the parameters? What are the thresholds? What are the criteria? We get into a very difficult area.”
Ms Mallon said she first became aware of the problem last Tuesday when she was told of one faulty vehicle lift.
On Wednesday she was told 48 lifts had been taken out of operation.
She moved to issue exemptions within 48 hours.
The exemption, however, does not apply to four-year-old cars, as they have never been issued with an MoT certificate, although they will be prioritised, alongside taxis.
“I’m restricted in what I can do for taxi drivers, as they are subject to a PSV licence,” she added.