Can you get a free NCT?

The National Car Test is a European directive; it is supposed to test all cars over four years old to see if they are fully roadworthy. The NCT certification is legally required for your car if it’s on the road in Ireland; you get 5 penalty points and a €1,500 fine if you don’t display one in the window of your car.

For the privilege of taking the test you must pay €50 on the day of testing whether you pass or fail. A re-test of underperforming parts costs €28. I believe the NCT does a good job of finding the rogue cars out there with bad brakes and bald tyres but there are a few problems.

My car is 4 years old this year so it was due its first NCT. I called the booking line in April and a lady told me that there were no slots open at my chosen centre, she asked if I would like to choose a different centre, when I refused that she said that a booking letter would come in the post that would tell me when I would have to take the test. At the time I thought nothing more of it. On the 5th of May the booking letter arrived, the date I received was the 5th of August for my test, a full three months wait. In the mean time I had a look around the internet and I came across a PDF of a booklet for the NCTS, in it there’s a “Standards of customer service” section and I read with some interest section 4, it reads:

“Ensure that an average leadtime for an appointment at an individual test centre is less than three weeks with a free test if this is greater than four weeks”

So to me that would mean a free test, I mean I have to wait 3 months for mine. On the 5th of August I presented my car for testing, before he would test the car I had to hand over €50, despite my arguing with the tester and even showing him the section in the pamphlet he still wouldn’t let me off the money. He told me that I had to apply for a refund so he printed me a full receipt and told me to get in touch with customer service.

I called them while I waited for my car to go through the tests, I talked to a woman who told me I would have to apply in writing for a refund, there was nothing she could do over the phone, even though she could see when the test was booked, they wanted to listen to the recording of the call just to make sure I didn’t request the booking for this date. I haven’t written a letter in years so I asked could I email it in, after a little arguing I was put through to a supervisor. She gave me the same answer but told me I could email info@ncts.ie . I sent in the receipt and a little note explaining my annoyance at being charged in the first place, I even sent a copy to Noel Dempsey the Minster for Transport.

After nearly 50 minutes my car was ready, it only took 50 minutes because of a tea break that happens around 10.30am, why they don’t finish the car they are working on before a tea break is beyond me, added to that, they all go together so there’s no one left working.

My car passed, I enquired from the tester if there were many people looking for free tests, he told me that there were “loads” of people, and that the NCTS want them to test two more cars a day there by putting more pressure on them. I wondered if it took 3 months to get my date and they add two more cars a day, just how long would it take to get a test date in the future, also how many free tests are performed by the NCTS because of the backlog?

After 4 phone calls and a number of emails I got a letter in the post from the NCT;

“Item 4 in our customer charter states “Ensure that and average lead time for an appointment at an individual test centre is less than three weeks with a free test if it is greater than four weeks” This refers to a situation where a customer requests a sooner appointment but where the NCT is unable to provide one.”

It doesn’t say that, item 4 makes no reference to me requesting a particular date, the letter went on…

“…I was unable to find your initial booking call; therefore we must ask you to provide us with the telephone number from which you made the booking call..”

It took 2 days for that letter to arrive and all he wanted was a phone number, he could have emailed or phoned me and got that. I decided to call them again, providing the phone number he wanted; I was told that “the matter will be investigated”

On the 11th of August I got another letter from the NCT which states the same thing;

“Item 4, <snip> this refers to a situation where a customer requests a sooner appointment but where the NCT is unable to provide one. Our records show that you were offered and accepted an appointment for the 5/8/2010.

Notwithstanding this, as a gesture of good will I would like to offer you a refund of the test fee. A cheque will be issued from our accounts department shortly.”

That means I should have asked for a sooner test, so I’m at fault but out of the goodness of their hearts they’ll refund my fee. I got a letter with a date on it, the date was more than 4 weeks so the test should be free. These people know their job, they know the dates, they should be offering me the soonest date available right? I wanted to find out just how many free tests are happening, on the Applus + web site it says that they carry out more than 1.4 million tests per year, so how many of them are done for free because of the lead time? I asked the RSA who is the responsible body for the NCT, they referred it onto Vehicle standards who came back with:

“The NCT service has been exceptionally busy this year and indeed the first quarter of 2010 has been the busiest since the NCT was established eleven years ago. There are a number of factors which contribute to this level of demand including the following:

· The decline in new vehicle sales in 2008 and 2009 has led to greater demand for testing of older vehicles.

· The large numbers of second hand imports in 2008, 2009 and 2010 has driven demand and is impossible to predict as sterling values and prices in Ireland drive this demand.

· The introduction of penalty points has increased drivers compliance and has brought almost 80,000 extra cars into the testing system and has generally led to drivers seeking tests mush[sic] earlier than had been the case in the past.

· The majority of new vehicles are registered in the first quarter and NCT falls due on the anniversary of registration. This means that the first quarter is the busiest period and demand rapidly falls away in May each year.

· We introduced a new NCT contractor on January 4th this year and had reduced capacity in the handover period. The new contractor has been awarded the contract for the next ten years.

Lead times for NCT vary from day to day.  Every week NCT releases test slots for customers who wish to make advance bookings up to 3 months ahead. However, the bulk of slots (approximately 2/3rds) are made available between 2 and 4 weeks in advance (28days) with a proportion of those retained for urgent bookings at two weeks lead-time.  For the vast majority of customers, therefore, lead times are around 14 – 28 days. At busy times, however, these slots are often used up very quickly and then the next slot available would be one of the advance slots opened to allow owners obtain firm test dates. Approximately one third of customers either request or voluntarily accept test dates further out. However, if such a slot is unsuitable for the customer, they are placed on the priority waiting list described above and they will generally be offered a slot within 28 days (or the test offered free of charge).

Trusting this clarifies the matter.

Kind Regards

Veronica Rowland

Vehicle Standards”

It is now as clear as mud, that’s just twisting words in the Customer charter to suit an answer. I didn’t get an answer to my question, how many free tests are being carried out each year?

In the mean time, Minster Dempsey had referred my email to Mr. Noel Brett, Chief executive of the R.S.A. Declan Naughton, Director of the R.S.A. came back to me with:

“I refer to your email dated 5 August 2010 to Mr Noel Dempsey, T.D., Minister for Transport in relation to a refund for your NCT Test and my subsequent email to you on 15 August last.

I have had the matter investigated with the National Car Testing Service who I understand have been in touch with you to clarify the matter and have made arrangements for a refund cheque to be issued directly to you.

I can only apologise for any inconvenience caused to you in this instance and I hope that this matter has now been resolved to your satisfaction.  I can assure you of the RSA’s continuing commitment to customer service which I know is shared by the contractor.

I trust this clarifies the situation for you.

Declan Naughton

Director”

The matter is clear; I am getting my refund, but how many refunds are being given out each year? No one would answer my question, either they don’t know or don’t want to say. Remember some of your tax pays for the NCT to exist, all those €50’s that you pay for your test pays the balance, but what happens when all that money starts being refunded or the tests are free?

To make matters worse for the NCT, from June 2011 cars that are over 10 years old have to be tested once a year, and from the 1st of September this year if you import a car you will have to present it to the NCT centre for inspection, this is not an NCT test, just is just to check that the car is as described, the VRT is cheaper for a basic model than the high spec version of the same car. The fee for this inspection can be deducted from the VRT for the car. In 2009 there was almost 50,000 cars imported into Ireland, from September on the NCT centres will have to examine that many more cars. How long will people have to wait before getting an appointment for an imported car? Can they drive the car in the period on foreign plates?

It seems that in Ireland there’s no joined up thinking, nothing seems to have been put in place for the extra volume of cars for testing, and the volumes are just going to rise, the solution seems to be give free tests until the backlog has cleared, but the backlog is just going to get bigger until they can test a bigger volume of cars.

I never got an answer to my question; it seems that no one knows how many tests are carried out in Ireland for free, 6 weeks have passed and I still haven’t gotten my cheque either.

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