Revealed: Some motorists must wait until next January for NCT appointment despite recruitment pledge

Thousands of daily no-shows and shortage of testers adding to the problem

Several NCT centres are offering test dates eight months from now as their earliest available slots. Photo: Getty Images© Getty Images

Conor Feehan

Motorists are being offered dates as far away as next year when they try to book an NCT (National Car Test).

Last February, the National Car Testing Service (NCTS) had promised to clear the current backlog and return to normal waiting times by June, with vehicles to be inspected within 12 days of a booking.

Junior minister Jack Chambers has said the matter should be addressed “urgently”, but the waiting time for tests shows no sign of improvement. The Irish Independent found several test centres offering January 2024 as the earliest available date.

Others showed dates in December, while many more offered appointments in November.

Despite NCT firm Applus recruiting new testing staff from as far away as the Philippines and increasing the number of vehicles tested, the frustration of logging on to the NCTS website and finding long waiting times remains.

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said gardaí are aware of the delays and are taking this into consideration when checking motorists’ NCT discs.

Applus claims it is now over the busiest part of the year. It says the number of vehicles overdue their NCT has peaked and waiting times are starting to decline.

A spokeswoman said Applus had to source accommodation for the Filipino workers, who are being housed as close as possible to test centres.

“NCTS are still increasing capacity through the provision of overtime to provide cover for leave and additional shifts for staff,” 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.

“There are a further 34 inspectors in training, who will begin testing vehicles in the coming weeks. Thirty of these came from the Philippines.

“An additional cohort of approximately 20 vehicle inspectors will arrive next week from the Philippines to commence their NCT training, and they will be testing in June.”

The spokeswoman said the automotive sector is no different from other industries struggling with a chronic shortage of qualified mechanics in Ireland.

“Many are ageing out of the trade and many more have taken advantage of opportunities to use their transferrable skills in non-automotive sectors, specifically the semi-conductor and pharmaceutical sectors,” she said.

What to do if you can't get a suitable appointment at your NCT centre

“We are actively running recruitment campaigns within Ireland, and we have also attempted to recruit directly through agencies across Europe, but without success. This is the reason why we have had to recruit outside of Ireland and Europe.”

Applus was awarded the 10-year contract to carry out NCT tests in 2020 by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) after a request for tenders. The contract is believed to be worth around €650m.

The RSA now holds weekly meetings with Mr Chambers, who is minister of state for transport, to assess how the backlog in testing is being handled.

Mr Chambers said the delays being experienced are a cause of huge frustration to many motorists and “need to be addressed urgently”.

“We are engaging with the RSA on reviewing its areas of operations so that some of the issues that have arisen in recent months are not repeated,” he told theIrish Independent. “There is a necessity to improve the booking system on the website, and my department has reflected that to the RSA.

“The NCT booking system is managed and operated by Applus, under contract to the RSA.

“The RSA estimates that the 12-day target of waiting time for an appointment will be restored by July.

“I believe the RSA is exploring all available options at this point.

“The key issue which needs to be addressed is the number of testers and the number of tests carried out each week.”

One aspect affecting test rates is people not showing up for appointments, according to Applus.

“Unfortunately, we are still experiencing high levels of no-shows, with over 2,500 customer no-shows per week, along with a further 1,000 late cancellations,” the spokeswoman said.

“As you can imagine, this is severely impacting the business and our ability to offer these appointments to other customers.

“We are therefore asking customers, if they know in advance that they will not be able to make their NCT appointment, to let us know as soon as possible so that those appointments could be offered to those on the waiting list.

“They can cancel through our call centre on 01 413 5992 or online.”

Applus has been criticised for cancelling appointments, meaning drivers have to reschedule through no fault of their own.

“We do unfortunately from time to time have to cancel appointments. These are primarily down to issues affecting our day-to-day operations,” the spokeswoman said.

“We try our best not to cancel appointments, but unfortunately, like other businesses, we have operational issues that occur that are outside of our control.

“We are therefore left with no alternative. In such instances, we ask the customers to contact us as soon as possible to arrange a new appointment and we do our best to prioritise them.”

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said: “Where a motorist is detected driving a vehicle without a valid NCT certificate and without any date of re-examination or evidence that the vehicle has been placed on the priority waiting list, the driver may be prosecuted for not having a valid NCT certificate.

“They are also liable to have their vehicle seized.

“Where a vehicle is detected without a valid NCT certificate but the driver is able to produce evidence of a date for a test having been scheduled, or that the vehicle has been placed on the priority waiting list, the member of An Garda Síochána will take this into consideration when deciding on the appropriate course of action.”

The Applus spokeswoman added: “We do understand that some customers who go online may only see appointments for mid-to-late 2023.

“However, if they require an earlier appointment than those available online, we are asking them to go on and place themselves on the priority list.

“The majority of customers who use the priority list receive an appointment within four weeks.

“The early months of every year are the busiest time for the NCT as vehicles fall due on the anniversary of their registration.

“We are now over the busiest part of the year. The number of vehicles overdue for their NCT has peaked and waiting times are starting to decline.

“Quarter one, 2023, saw the second-highest throughput in a single quarter in the 23-year history of the NCTS. Over 100,000 more inspections were carried out compared to the same quarter in 2022.

“We are still targeting a much-improved service in terms of availability of appointments by the start of quarter three.”