Motoring down the superhighway


29 Jan 2004

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If there’s anything worse than paying taxes, it’s having to queue to pay them. This is an experience thousands of motorists have to endure each month as they wait in motor tax offices across the country to receive their new tax disc. The good news is that it might all be coming to an end for those prepared to use the internet as the long-awaited online motor tax system (http://www.motortax.ie) is due to go live nationwide later this year.

But why has it taken so long? Surely if we can pay income tax online, via the Revenue On-Line Service, paying motor tax should be easy. Not so, as the motor tax regime is a bit more complicated. For a start, the motor tax is collected not by the Revenue Commissioners but by the 29 local authorities within the State. Renewal notices, however, are issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DoEHLG) from its offices in Shannon and the money collected goes into a local government fund.

“If you want to pay your motor tax at the moment you interact with the local authority directly,” explains John Fitzgerald of the DoEHLG. “You can pay your motor tax in either of two ways. You go to the office and queue or you gather all the documentation and you pop it in the post with payment and have your tax disc posted to you.

“The entire motor tax online project was heralded in New Connections — the Government’s programme for e-government. It was also part of this department’s pledge to improve customer service. In effect, the department is becoming a motor tax authority. You can transact your business via Motor Tax Online with Shannon. Customers will get a reminder as usual and that reminder will contain a unique PIN code to allow them to transact their business,” he continues.

At the core of the system is the National Vehicle and Driver File (NVDF) that contains information on every vehicle and driver in the State. This file was significantly upgraded last year in anticipation of the online service. Customers log into the service, key in their vehicle’s registration number and their PIN code. They are then asked to confirm their personal details and those of the vehicle. Crucially, they are also asked for precise insurance details. At the moment, those paying offline need only indicate the company and they present the certificate as proof but obviously this is not possible online.

According to Fitzgerald, the information provided will be used for spot checks. Which form these spot checks will take — either the insurance company could be asked to confirm the details or customers could be invited to send in their insurance certificate — remains to be decided.

Customers also select the duration and method of payment. Payment can be made by Laser or credit card.

Once this information is complete it is posted to the NVDF and the tax disc is posted out. “Our pledge is that we will do our part to get the disk to you within five days,” says Fitzgerald. “In reality, however, we expect to do better than that. We would like to put the disc in the post the next day.”

So far the service has been launched on a pilot basis in three areas: Galway, Clare and north Tipperary. “The total population of these areas is about 180,000, which represents about 10pc of the national fleet, so it gave us a fairly good picture of how it would work and we are pretty happy with the way things have gone. The takeup was between 5-6pc and we are happy with that because it was launched without any fanfare or publicity,” Fitzgerald adds.

About 2,400 transactions have been recorded since the pilot began in mid-November and some €530k was collected online. The annual take is in the region of €600m. “At the end of the day we don’t judge success or failure on the number of transactions,” he says. “What’s important is that we are opening up new channels for the citizen. We have been encouraged by figures released last year by ComReg that show 1.6 million adults have access to a PC and 46pc of the adult population does some business over the internet.”

Ultimately Motor Tax Online will be an integral part of the Reach programme and it will integrate with the Public Services Broker. It also will be compatible with the proposed citizen data vaults where citizens will be able to store relevant information such as digital insurance certificates and so on. Until then, however, the system is ready to go and Fitzgerald is confident it will roll out nationwide in March or April of this year. “We may decide to pilot in one or two more counties but we are satisfied that the new system is robust enough,” he concludes.

By David Stewart