With all HGV MOTs suspended for three months from 21 March, there looks like being a serious backlog to sort out later in the year. John Kendall reveals what the situation was like before the closure, and what we can expect once things get back to normal...

Under normal conditions, the DAF Trucks dealer network prepares and tests around 3,200 vehicles on average per month and achieves a 97.8% first-time pass rate, reveals DAF Trucks UK dealer development director John McMenamin.

“In 2018/19 we simply did not have enough testers being made available from the DVSA to cover all the ATFs,” he says.

“This shortage was hardest felt in London and the Home Counties. DAF Trucks had various communications with DVSA throughout 2018/19 and it became clear that, with the successful uptake and growth of the ATF network, both at franchised and non-franchised locations across the UK, this was outstripping the headcount resource.

“More recently we have seen the DVSA tackle this headcount issue with a programme to recruit some 200 additional testers. Clearly this has been successful in part as evidenced by the reduction of cancelled test appointments.”

Iveco has main dealers and authorised repairers operating ATF lanes and said they would all struggle because of an industry shortage of testers, which consequently leads to very long lead times for booking inspections.

“We plan our MOTs a year in advance," one West Country haulier told motortransport.co.uk. "We keep our trucks for seven years and once it’s put in the place where we want it, that’s where it stays for the next seven years.

“We need to have a flow of work through our workshops that is not going to overload the workshops and is not going to deplete the traffic office from lorries that they need to use.

“What’s going to happen then when things get better? It’s all very well giving us two or three months, but there are barely enough testers to test normally, so by the time you’ve got two or three months’ worth of tests that need catching up with and the other ones that are coming through, I just can’t see it happening.”

This haulier sees a couple of alternatives that DVSA could use – either to give responsible hauliers with green Operator Compliance Risk Scores (OCRS) a 12-month MOT extension or to allow workshop technicians who prepare vehicles for MOT temporary authority to conduct testing once it begins again to help clear the backlog.

Ian Wrench is retail development director for the Volvo Group in the UK. The company currently has 39 ATF lanes in its own and at dealer sites with 19 at Volvo’s own sites and 20 among its independently owned dealers. He says that where ATF staff is concerned, the company seems to go through periods where availability is an issue, generally in particular places rather than nationwide.

“Depending on where you are in the country”, says Wrench “utilisation of hours is no problem at all, it outstrips demand, but in other areas you can struggle, but that all comes back to the free market – where the competition is and who else has an ATF in that area.”

“DVSA’s priority is helping everyone to keep their vehicle safe to drive”, says Hugh Rimmer, Vehicle Taskforce Lead for the DVSA.

“We do not have a shortage of heavy vehicle testers.

“For at least 18 months prior to the coronavirus outbreak we have been able to recruit sufficient testers and, through careful workforce planning, ensure the number remains constant.

“The high level of cancellations by ATFs of allocated testing capacity, combined with a utilisation by them of less than 95% of the testing hours provided, demonstrates that we are fulfilling our commitment to provide sufficient testing capacity.

“We share our testing data with industry and will continue to work with them to ensure the national fleet of nearly one million vehicles remains safe and compliant.”

DVSA currently has 480 heavy vehicle testers out of a possible 486. The organisation says that since September 2018, there has been a significant year-on-year rise in the number of testing hours cancelled by ATFs.

In November, it rose from 798 cancelled hours in 2018 to 1,183.5 in 2019. DVSA claims it did not cancel any testing in November 2019.

DVSA claims that between March and November 2019, DVSA cancelled only 43 hours of heavy vehicle testing, while in the same period, ATFs cancelled 5,735.5 hours.