ATF’s need a break not a diktat 

Since The ATF scheme was inaugurated in 2010-11 ATF’s have had to absorb a whole range of measures that have negatively impacted on our ability to operate a fair and efficient testing facility. To add to the misery, each time something else has been dumped on us by our DVSA partners we have not been remunerated for it.

Those of you mad crazy fools who jumped on board the ATF testing bandwagon in the early stages may remember the first fee consultation in 2011. How naive we were to think that our pit fee revenues would have been considered as part of the consultation process ….

It turned out that DVSA only managed to revise their own statutory fees but decided to leave their ATF partners fees out.

At that time, when I challenged him, I recall being caught out by a response from the previous head of The DVSA, Alistair Peoples, who quipped at one meeting I attended ‘it is not my responsibility to make ATF’s profitable’.

There was more than a hint of arrogance surrounding early DVSA decisions and it looks like the precedence had been set, especially if you consider the historic evidence since.

Time is money

In July 2014, DVSA revised some testing times on particular vehicle types. Some trailers increased from 20 to 25 minutes representing a 25% increase. So in real terms, if you were testing mainly trailers, this translated into a 25% reduction in ATF pit fee revenue in one fail swoop. Of course, ATF’s had no say in this decision, despite financing the ATF Testing scheme.

The methods used to measure the time it took to test led the industry to be somewhat bemused. DVSA management told the DVSA testers they were carrying out timing exercises so the testers knew they were going to be measured. From that point anyone could have forecast the results; it’s a widely known scientific rule that if the subject knows it’s being measured then the subject will react accordingly (more slowly in this case). ATFOA argued this point at the time and that ‘secret shopping’ measurements should have been used to gain real time records and experience of the ATF lane coal face, not laboratory re-enactments.

The timing exercise was critised by industry stakeholders for hardly being independent either, which cast further doubt over the results; The work was carried out by the Department for Transport’s own in-house analytical consultancy (IHAC).

More recently DVSA have announced, without consultation, that their ATF partners are to absorb yet more time and expense. This time round we have been told that ‘the setting up time’ is now to be carried out during our 420 ‘testing’ minutes.  The 420 minutes was contractually agreed to be utilised for testing, not ‘setting up time’.

ATFOA have yet to receive any feedback from ATF’s on this latest burden yet, but we have to again, question the arrogance of DVSA’s decision making that appears to assume that their partners can afford to utilise time that we’ve paid for testing to do their job. 

Furthermore it has been assumed by DVSA management that DVSA staff can be assisted by the ATF personnel ensuring that the necessary equipment and associated facility checks have been completed – but at whose expense?

To truly understand the point we’re making; One should consider what DVSA’s reaction would be if the ATF community decided to shorten test times of trailers, asked their staff to make our tea and then pay ourselves a bonus – all without consulting them. 

ATF’s were left out of the fee consultation in 2011, have absorbed increased test times (2014) and, more recently, absorbed ‘setting up checks’, during allocated testing time. If this isn’t challenging enough we should remind DVSA would have absorbed 9 years of inflationary pressure by 2020.

Inflationary pressures at the Bank of England average rate of 2.9%, would mean that if ATF test fees were reviewed annually (as originally stated) the £55 cap would now be £69.28.

Meaning ATF’s will be losing £14 per test because ATF’s have been left out, again.

On a normal test day, that’s loss of £141. If you’re testing 5 days a week that’s a £714 loss or £3000 per month.

Coupled with large reductions in testing allocations, these factors are hitting hard on The ATF community so ATFOA will be looking to DVSA to support their partners by reviewing the pit fee cap to help alleviate the financial challenges we are facing.

If the figures don’t alarm you, then perhaps we should listen to latest pattern of reports.

It transpires that some ATF’s are struggling to remain viable so they are looking for additional revenue to help sustain their ATF investment. Some ATF’s, we hear, are making it a mandatory charge to present third party vehicles for testing (instead of allowing the option for third parties to present themselves). Some haulage operators who have contacted us have quoted £120 mandatory presentation charge on top of the pit fee.

Whilst The ATFOA does not condone this practice, as presenting a vehicle for testing should be an option rather than mandatory, we fully understand the compromise some operators are having to make to support ailing test figures.

ATF’s exist in an environment where our partners:

  • Change the goal posts at will
  • Can afford to reward their staff £500 bonus 
  • Struggle to deliver a flexible supply of testers

So is it time that ATFOA ask for some more?

ATFOA believe it is.

One has to argue that a re-calibration of the pit fee is well over due. A consultation should be on the table to alleviate the challenges ATF’s have inherited.

Letter of the month

Having had several reservation requests declined I was advised by the DVSA ATF testers manager to make short term booking requests for days close to the declined ones, I put a request in, giving what I thought was a sensible lead time of 4 weeks.

A week later the short term booking request was declined as it was “too far ahead”, DVSA can only take short term requests that are no more than two weeks ahead.

This makes the short term booking request facility unusable for the following reason: If you were to put in a request for a test day in two weeks’ time, wait a week to hear from the DVSA,  that would leave you a week to organise a day’s testing, IMPOSSIBLE !

It appears DVSA are manipulating the short term requests so they can report ATF’s are not using the short term booking request facility.

 Have you had anyone else with similar stories ?

Many thanks

Allan Balsdon

Managing Director

Balsdons Vehicle Services

Do you have any correspondence, experience or opinion you wish to share? Please write in to

Kind regards  

Stephen Smith


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