WEST Belfast MP Paul Maskey has called for the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Minister to address “immediately” the development of a second financial assistance scheme for taxi drivers.
Mr Maskey was speaking after DfI Minister Nichola Mallon wrote to the First and deputy First Ministers seeking further ‘Determination and Designation’ under the Financial Assistance Act to implement a second scheme for drivers.
“The taxi industry has taken a severe hit since the start of the pandemic,” said Mr Maskey, “after talking to many drivers over recent times there is much hardship that they’ve experienced and very little help to them from the DfI”.
Mr Maskey said that he has been dealing with many drivers who applied for the Taxi Drivers Financial Assistance Grant, “and have yet to get a penny of help – that is not acceptable”.
“I have sent correspondence to Nichola Mallon’s office many times over the last few weeks adding names of drivers and asking the department for an update on their application for the grant and to get them paid as soon as possible. I sincerely hope they are paid very soon.”
Mr Maskey said there is a “flaw” in the DfI scheme.
“If a driver took a break in their taxi insurance, even if it was just for a few days during lockdown to save money whilst they were not working, this meant that DfI ruled them out of the scheme. That is something that we have called on the Minister to address ASAP as it is unfair and unjust.”
He continued: “I welcome the fact that the Minister is now finally trying to address this. I urge her to do so immediately and get her officials to make the payments to those that have been waiting for months now to get on their grant.
“Taxi drivers bring our key workers to and from work, they drive people to hospital appointments and need to be commended for their work over the pandemic as they have all put their own health on the line delivering this vital service.
“They need to be respected and valued so the DfI needs to do all it can to resolve the issues on payment to drivers and to those who have had an insurance break.”
Minister Mallon said over 3,500 drivers have already benefited from the first scheme, with the remaining applications continuing to be processed “as quickly as possible”.
“However some drivers were not able to benefit from the first scheme. I recognise and am sympathetic to the fact that, while some of those drivers did not have continuous insurance and could not therefore avail of the financial support, they still incurred overheads for part of the year.
"I am also mindful that the current and ongoing restrictions on retail/hospitality continue to impact on all taxi drivers financially making it difficult for them to cover the costs they continue to incur in doing their job.
"I will be meeting with the sector next week to work with them on delivering another scheme urgently to help with their ongoing overhead costs at this difficult time.”