Free NCTs: Are you one of the thousands of Irish motorists taking advantage of test backlog?

The NCT service is under pressure

Anne-Marie Walsh

More than 2,000 motorists have been offered free NCT tests since the start of the year, following delays due to a massive backlog.

The test normally costs €55 – but under a customer charter, drivers qualify for a free test if they are not offered an appointment within 28 days of seeking a test.

This rule is subject to a number of conditions, including that the vehicle owner did not fail to attend an appointment.

There were an estimated 375,000 cars on Irish roads without a valid certification of roadworthiness last month, leading to concerns about safety and insurance cover.

A spokesperson for NCT operator Applus said 2,100 customers qualified for a free test so far this year.

“The NCT service recognises there are significant waiting lists for NCT appointments – we have increased capacity, and will continue to do so until the issue is resolved,” she said.

“Recruitment is still ongoing, and so far in 2023, we have recruited 24 vehicle inspectors who are now in the NCT test centres testing.”

A recruitment team has just returned from the Philippines and hopes to have at least 50 vehicle inspectors begin training, as soon as visas and work permits are processed.

The spokesperson said the customer charter rules were relaxed during lockdown, but were reinstated last October.

The rules mean motorists will be provided with a free test where an appointment cannot be offered within a 28-day period.

However, this is unless the test is overdue by more than seven days at the time of contact, of if an appointment was offered seven days or more before the test due date.

A free test will not be offered if the vehicle owner has made specific requests for suitable days, times or dates, has failed to attend an appointment, declined or rearranged two or more appointments, or previously accepted or requested an appointment outside the 28-day period.

“The vast majority of customers receive an appointment within four weeks of application,” said the spokesperson.

“Each booking request is evaluated, and if they qualify for a free test, it is allocated.”

It has also emerged that the Road Safety Authority (RSA) is in negotiations with NCT operator Applus over the potential imposition of fines.

When asked if fines are being levied, the RSA said the contract with Applus is commercially sensitive.

“However, it does contain clauses relating to the application of service credits, where service levels in the contract are not being met,” said the spokeswoman.

She said the RSA has “leveraged the mechanisms” within the contract and the matter is currently under discussion.

Mechanics at the NCT centres previously rejected new worker proposals to address backlogs.

The Labour Court recommended a plan to hire new inspection support personnel to carry out lower skilled work.

An Applus spokesperson previously said this “model” is seen as something the NCT service could do to help address a chronic shortage of mechanics in Ireland. There were 610 vehicle inspectors last month, and the optimum level is between 620 and 630.

Applus has launched night-time testing in its Northpoint Test Centre in Dublin, in a bid to clear backlogs.

The company said it expects a significant improvement in service delivery in the second quarter of this year – and a full return to normal service levels at the start of the third quarter.