Pass or Farce?

The New MOT system had its problems but will benefit the industry in the long-term

Published:  03 October, 2015

Sitting in front of me is an MOT certificate for my Focus ST170, handwritten. It's the first handwritten certificate I've had in a very long time and if I didn't know better, I'd think the MOT system has gone backwards as a result.

Unfortunately, this is a view that a number of drivers have and it appears the garages are the ones in the firing line. Yet the problem does not lie with the internet connection of a garage but rather the system itself. The MOT modernisation has been coming for some time, however while seeing the benefits, Aftermarket was always sceptical of how successful it would be in its early days. This scepticism was proven right with garages across the country taking to social media platforms to complain as the roll out began.

The facts

The MOT modernisation is needed, the benefits are clear and over time the new system will allow for changes and adaptations to be implemented smoothly. However, concerns began to rise with the timescale of the project, Beta testing only beginning in earnest during April 2015, five months before a planned national switchover. When other government websites, such as the Vehicle Tax, Driving licence and Dartford Crossing systems began experiencing problems at their launches, it became apparent that something had to be done to ensure the DVSA did not suffer the same issues.

With over 70,000 MOTs a day being carried out in the UK, the new system would have to handle twice the amount of traffic on a daily basis than that which caused the Vehicle Tax system to crash on its first day of online reliance. With that service, people can log in to update their tax throughout the month, so visitor numbers only spike on a monthly basis as drivers leave it to the last minute. The MOT system would have to handle 70,000 log in requests daily and cope without crashing.

We contacted the DVSA in June 2015 to see what their plans were for developing the system and ensuring there were no problems. At the time, a spokesperson commented: "We have developed this service in a way that is new to DVSA. We have moved away from a single supplier doing all things for us, to working in an agile way with more smaller suppliers. As with anything new, this has had its challenges - but we are positive that this is the right way to go about building and maintaining this service so that user needs can best be met."

What happened?

The DVSA started to switch garages that said they were ready to the new system in August. However, once around 20% of garages conducting MOTs were online, problems started occurring. Testers found they couldn't log on, some were unable to add technicians to their list of recognised testers and for some garages, contingency sheets could not be downloaded, leading to them turning customers away.

The back-up measures put in place should the system crash is for a paper certificate to be printed out, with a daily contingency code added to allow the testing station to enter older results. The level of problems meant some were facing a large backlog of tests to enter, taking up time they could be using to conduct other MOTs. Some garages suggested they were only carrying out three or four tests a day when on average they were taking in ten or more cars.

Concerns were also raised that drivers' whose details could not be logged on the system would face problems should they be stopped by the police, or if they needed the MOT to apply for or renew vehicle tax. With the test not logged, other online systems would not be able to check the validity of the vehicle's MOT status. One garage owner also suggested it could play into the hands of forgers, or that the police would not be willing to accept a paper certificate if produced at the roadside, unless they were aware of issues.

Other problems included garages reporting that customers were blaming them for the problems, a situation caused by a lack of promotion into the changes and what it might mean for the general public. Car hire firms experienced a similar problem when the DVLA abolished the paper counterpart of the driving licence, requiring them to log into an online portal to check driver records. However, some national media outlets picked up on the problems and contacted garages to ensure the record was set straight, with the DVSA also speaking out on the matter shortly afterward.

The Independent Garage Association has been monitoring and working with the DVSA on the new system. Despite the initial problems, Chief Executive Stuart James believes it will benefit: "The new system is launched with basic functionality, when it is fully embedded, it will be a lot quicker for the garage to use, they can carry out an MOT and enter details while walking round a vehicle from a tablet computer, it will be more user friendly and much faster."

On becoming aware of the issues and what they did to help, Stuart added: "About two to three weeks ago we had a lot of calls from garages who were despairing, they couldn't get through to the DVSA through the helplines, which they needed for various reasons, such as getting their access details through to not being able to log in. We worked closely with the DVSA and spoke with them daily, used the technical forum to post new problems and keep garages informed and whether there were contingency codes available. We are not getting the same volume of phone calls so we are assuming the glitches are being ironed out."

Stuart also feels that the government body should be praised for the way it has handled the problems: "The DVSA has been open transparent and honest. We've spoken with them almost daily and for them to publish a statement of apology was a very honest and clear move. An organisation that is acting in such a way, admitting it is having difficulties, has to be looked upon in that way. It will lead to an easier to use, better and efficient system.

Contingency codes were being sent out daily, meaning garages weren't calling to log problems, so they were unaware of further issues. Of course it is more important that garages are able to operate, it is still developing but it is important to get it completely right. With 22,000 garages and 70,000 MOTs daily, it was always going to be a big job."

The system seems to be working with few problems at present and the DVSA has certainly learnt from the problems that affect it in the early weeks. It will be interesting to see how it handles any major updates and how these will affect garages accessing the portal moving forward but for now, MOT modernisation is finally working, even if handwriting highlights a link to the past.

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