LEARNER drivers across the North East are being forced to pay external companies up to £30 in order to help them find an available driving test, as a backlog of the practical exam continues from the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the last two years, cancellations, postponements and rescheduling of driving tests have become a common feature across the board when it comes to driving exam centres across the North East and beyond. At the latest estimate, 450,000 tests across the UK were cancelled in total during the pandemic.

Due to a shortage of examiners, driving instructors and learners having to self-isolate, some people have reported that they’ve had to wait up to five months for an available slot so they can attempt to pass their driving test.

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As reported in The Northern Echo this week, issues with the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) website going down, coupled with a change in testing rules, which could see learners forced to delay a test so they’re “more prepared”, have been cited as the factors which have caused a backlog.

We spoke to some learner drivers that have had tests cancelled, have struggled to book a test and those that have had multiple tests rescheduled over the last two years.

Learner Jeff Stacey, from Middlesbrough, managed to book and pass his theory test without any issues, but when it came to the practical side of things, he had several issues.

The Northern Echo: Drivers across the North East have spoken about their frustrations at having to wait five months for a driving test.Drivers across the North East have spoken about their frustrations at having to wait five months for a driving test.

After booking a slot for a test in April in Darlington, Mr Stacey spent a lot of his time trying to move this date forward. Thankfully, he passed his test in January after another learner cancelled but he’s concerned about how others could be impacted in the future.

He said: “I managed to get booked ok for theory in Middlesbrough, and as soon as I passed, I got a practical test date for April in Darlington. I kept going on the official cancellation page several times a day got it brought forward to March, then just before Christmas, managed to get a slot in January in Darlington, which I passed.”

This issue for Mr Stacey sadly isn’t a unique one. Denise Duncan, from County Durham, was forced to travel to Harrogate at the end of last year for her theory test, due to the limited or non-existent tests available in the region.

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The limited availability also continued into the practical test, which saw Ms Duncan pay an external company £18 to find her a cancellation slot at the end of November 2021.

After speaking with other learners, payments to third-party organisations to find a cancellation or test slot has become commonplace when it comes to passing driving tests. In fact, more people responding to a survey on The Northern Echo website say that they passed during the pandemic through this method, rather than waiting for an available slot on the DVSA government portal.

Website and apps such as Testi, Speedy Tests and Find Me a Driving Test have proved to be popular choices with North East learners, but what do they exactly do?

The Northern Echo: There are apps and third-parties websites that claim they can get learners a nearer and earlier test date. Pictures: TESTI.There are apps and third-parties websites that claim they can get learners a nearer and earlier test date. Pictures: TESTI.

According to a representative of Testi App, the service works by provided people who have already booked a test with DVSA to “sit back and relax” as the app finds them cancellations and test slots for test centres nearby.

On another site, ‘Find Me a Driving Test’, the website claims that “it is almost certain to find those earlier dates as we search the DVA database over a thousand times a day”, while offering a £19.99 premium account option.

In every case of these websites, a premium option is available to users, which vary in cost between £8 and £30, and will offer additional services, including nearer test centres, more choice of tests and send users notifications when new tests are available.

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With further digging into the websites that issue earlier tests, The Northern Echo found that some offer learners the chance to handle every single part of the booking process, while some websites claim they can even get drivers “higher on the list” by paying more to the apps.

In some cases, driving instructors and professionals from the industry are also benefitting after affiliated apps are sometimes paying a cut of profits to driving instructors for referring learners.

In one example, one driving instructed, who wished to remain anonymous told The Northern Echo that they are paid £5 per pupil they refer to one of the unnamed apps.

The Northern Echo: The apps come with premium services that learners are paying upwards of £30 for in order to secure better or more desirable tests.The apps come with premium services that learners are paying upwards of £30 for in order to secure better or more desirable tests.

But the reality is, that people are willing to pay for the services in exchange for a sooner test date.

Katie Louise Summers, from County Durham, is one of those that’s used Testi. After failing her driving test twice, she has been able to book three lots of tests in the space of three months due to the app, with her most recent one coming next month.

She said: “I booked my first practical with the DVSA and failed so I downloaded Testi, booked a test in Darlington, but managed to change the test to Durham through Testi, to which I failed, so I’ve just booked another one in a different place and just managed to again change it at Durham for February.”

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Despite many turning to online apps and websites for help when it comes to driving tests, the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has called for people to only take their test if they feel they’re ready, which they believe will help rebalance the backlog.

DVSA’s Chief Executive, Loveday Ryder, said: “We are doing all we can to provide as many tests as possible so we can get our services back to normal. I know learners will be keen to take their test now, but it is important that they are properly prepared for their test and don’t take it before they are ready.

“With more than half of candidates failing, and demand currently extremely high for tests, learners should only take their test only when they are confident they can pass. This will help them to avoid a lengthy wait for a retest and help us by not adding to the driving test waiting list.”

The Northern Echo: DVSA's chief executive, Loveday Ryder. Picture: GOV.UK.DVSA's chief executive, Loveday Ryder. Picture: GOV.UK.

As well as the call from DVSA, they have confirmed that they are trying to deal with the backlog by getting recently retired examiners to conduct tests, conducting out of hours testing on weekends and public holidays and launching a campaign to recruit an additional 300 examiners

The government agency has also appealed to learner drivers to “stay away” from cancellation apps due to the “inflated prices” attached to the websites.

A spokesperson for the DVSA said: “We do not employ, encourage or licence anyone to provide a cancellation checking service. Many of the current providers of this service are charging above the booking rate, which could be seen to promote social divides between those who can and can’t afford to use such services.

“We continue to take steps to block cancellation services from accessing the booking system.”

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