Drivers across Northern Ireland are again facing massive disruption at MoT centres after issues with vehicle lifts saw appointments cancelled.
Inspections are to be carried out at 12 of the 17 centres across Northern Ireland after problems were reported earlier this week.
It is understood cracks were found on vehicle ‘scissor lifts’ and appointments were cancelled for safety reasons.
The BBC said it had seen an internal document that suggested 48 of the 55 lifts in operation had problems.
The disruption is also set to worsen tomorrow as NIPSA members are to go on strike on Friday in a dispute over pay and conditions.
It comes following a substantial backlog in appointments towards the end of last year that saw some customers waiting 52 days for an appointment.
Last week, the testing facility at Larne was closed for repairs, while car and light vehicles tests at the Mallusk centre were suspended on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) “sincerely apologised” for the problems and said all inspections are expected to be completed on Thursday. It said repairs would be carried out as soon as possible.
One customer said she has been left with “no idea what’s happening” following issues at the Mallusk centre.
The customer — who did not want to be named — told the Belfast Telegraph she was given two hours notice of a change of venue from Larne to Mallusk. But when she arrived she was turned away.
“Now I’m just waiting to hear about an appointment, but I guess I’m one of the lucky ones — my certificate doesn’t run out until next week,” she said.
“But I’m sure others have had appointments cancelled and don’t have time to wait. All this is obviously going to the backlog of appointments.”
I have spoken with the Director of Operations of the DVLA. Repairs are under way for vehicle lifts and will be opened as soon as operable. Any cancelled tests will be prioritised and they apologise to those customers affected in relation to the poor communication. https://t.co/mIfFTVs5Qe— Carla Lockhart (@carlalockhart) January 23, 2020
DUP MP Carla Lockhart said there appeared to have been a “breakdown of communication” over the closure of the centres, with people showing up at closed test centres without prior warning their appointment had been cancelled.
Her party colleague MLA Gordon Dunne said he has been contacted by a constituent who was turned away from an appointment and said the issues need to be addressed urgently.
“It is imperative that our MoT centres are subject to regular planned maintenance programmes which include periodic inspections and load testing to ensure that these centres run smoothly and that there is not a repeat of any issues as we have just seen,” he added.
He said there needed to be clarity for those motorists who had their test cancelled and if they would have any grace period if their car test certificate had expired.
In an update statement on Thursday evening the DfI said some test centre's would open on Sunday to make up for the cancelled appointments.
"As and when test centres have been inspected and any necessary repairs completed, they will immediately become operational. Boucher Road, Cookstown and Newbuildings test centres are now fully operational and all MOT tests are being carried out," the spokesperson said.
“At present, there are limited tests being carried out at most MOT centres and appointments are being rescheduled while inspections and repairs are completed. Mallusk remains the only test centre not carrying out car and light vehicle tests; heavy goods vehicles and bus tests remain unaffected. DVA is making every effort to contact customers to reschedule appointments and will prioritise customers who require an immediate test.
“All other test centres remain open and customers should attend their MOT appointment unless contacted by DVA.
“A number of test centres will open on Sunday to provide additional tests.
“DVA sincerely apologises for the inconvenience caused. It is working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”
DfI was asked by the Belfast Telegraph if the DVA is still experiencing an appointment backlog and, if so, are the current vehicle lift issues worsening this. The department did not respond.
A NIPSA spokesperson said it is aware of ongoing safety concerns regarding vehicle lifts, however they are satisfied with the response by DfI in addressing the problems.
"We will seek assurances that all the repair work is completed to the satisfaction of all necessary parties before the lifts are used again and will continue to closely monitor any repaired lifts," the spokesperson added.
"Separately to this issue, NIPSA members who work in the testing centres will be on strike tomorrow in a continuing dispute over pay and conditions.
"The members are angry about below inflation pay increases which have resulted in pay cuts of between 15% and 20% over the last 9 years.
"We expect that this strike action will cause further significant disruption to testing across Northern Ireland but trust that the public will be sympathetic to civil servants’ demands for fair pay."
Last year, a substantial backlog of appointments at MoT centres saw some drivers waiting 52 days for an appointment in July.
While many had to wait more than a month for an appointment, DfI said more than 5,000 people failed to turn up for scheduled tests from August to September.
A total of 2,549 appointments were missed in August, while 2,708 were missed in September.
While many motorists found they could not book an appointment before the expiry of their MoT, they were told there could be no “grace period” to allow them to continue to use their vehicle with an expired certificate.
In 2018, it emerged that emissions tests on diesel cars have not been carried out during MoT tests in Northern Ireland for the past 12 years, despite being legally required.
The DVA said staff to a “visual test” instead and make a “personal judgment” on emissions. It said to re-introduce that element of the test would require “significant investment”.