Gardaí have expressed concern at the spiralling cost of the towing and storage of vehicles seized for road-traffic offences and its financial impact on the force.
An internal audit, last year, revealed that An Garda Síochána suffered a deficit of €20m between 2016 and 2018, largely as a result of not being able to recover charges from motorists.
Expenditure on towing increased by 44% over the three-year period, while revenue from motorists who paid to have their vehicles returned fell by 12%.
Such a trend had led to the annual deficit increasing 70% over the period, from €4.9m, in 2016, to €8.3m, in 2018, said a report by the Garda Internal Audit Service
In 2018, the total cost for the towing and storage of vehicles was almost €10.4m, while receipts from motorists was just over €2m.
“If this trend is to continue, it would have a significant, negative financial impact upon the resources of An Garda Síochána, which would not be in compliance with the public service concept of attaining value for money,” it added.
Under Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act, approximately 2,500 vehicles are detained by gardaí each month, because of motorists suspected of driving over the legal alcohol limit or suspected of having either no driving licence or motor insurance.
Motorists have to pay €125 to recover their vehicle, as well as €35 for every 24-hour period it remains in storage beyond the first 24 hours.
However, vehicles are released without charge if the owner satisfies gardaí that it was insured, taxed, and had a valid NCT certificate at the time of its detention.
Vehicles are also released without charge if they were taken or used without the permission of the owner.
The audit said that towing-related services should be provided on a cost-neutral basis.
However, the audit noted that the rates for such services, which are set by the Department of Transport, have not been increased since 2011.
Internal auditors recommended that a plan be put in place over a number of years to achieve better governance and oversight, as well as increases in rates to offset the cost to An Garda Síochána.
An analysis found the majority of the deficit was linked to the cost of storing vehicles. This accounted for 61% of the total.
For that reason, the GIAS said it was likely that savings could be made by better oversight and management of vehicles held in storage and by the prompt disposal of vehicles.
Vehicles cannot be disposed of before a period of six weeks from the date of the seizure of the vehicle or two weeks after the owner has been notified of its intended disposal, whichever is the longer.
The audit found there was no “business owner” within An Garda Síochána to ensure effective governance and oversight of contracts with providers of vehicle-towing and vehicle-storage services.
It revealed that gardaí also spent €323,000 on the disposal of end-of-life vehicles between 2016 and 2018.
The audit said that gardaí should charge contractors for the disposal of such vehicles, so that it would be “regarded as a source of income and not an expense.”
It also discovered a wrongly applied rate of VAT charged to the Galway division had resulted in an overcharge of €25,000 for the disposal of vehicles.