A taxi man has described as an “absolute calamity” the Department for Infrastructure’s (DfI) handling of a financial assistance scheme set up to help beleaguered drivers. 

The Executive has approved a proposal to help taxi drivers who failed to meet the criteria for a Covid-19 grant because they paused their insurance.  We reported last week how West Belfast MP Paul Maskey called for the DfI Minister to address “immediately” the development of a second financial assistance scheme for taxi drivers.

Mr Maskey spoke of how the much relied upon and vital taxi industry had taken a severe hit since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.  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”.

The taxi driver who contacted our newsdesk, and didn’t want to be named, spoke of the frustration he and fellow drivers continue to feel since their industry and trade “has been hit really hard” since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

“From March 15 of last year I’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing. I don’t earn a penny, not a thing and the only thing I’m relying on is the self-employed grant, drivers have been left high and dry,” he said. 

“I’m in the house everyday, I can’t put diesel in the car, my wife works part-time and only for our kids we would be in trouble as they have helped us out a few times now. The DfI are a law onto themselves, they don’t answer emails and you can’t ring them, there is no number and they just do what they want.”

The taxi man spoke of how many drivers were left with no choice but to pause their insurance or hand cars back to their depots to try and save money as work grounded to a halt. 

“Throughout this taxi men are being treated terribly and the only help I’ve had is Paul Maskey. Over 4,000 drivers applied for the first scheme and are still waiting on their payment, how can it take that long to process that amount of applications? I know drivers who have lost their cars, they have lost everything. 

“The only thing DfI are good at is their enforcement team at Corporation Street who hand out fines to drivers, that’s the only arm of DfI that works.”

DfI Minister Nichola Mallon received new powers to provide further financial assistance for taxi drivers. The new scheme will provide financial assistance to taxi-drivers whose insurance did not cover the full six-month period of the existing scheme and will provide further assistance for all drivers from October 1 until the end of the financial year. 

“The first scheme provided payments of £1,500 to over 4,100 taxi drivers, with some 90 per cent of applications being processed for payment by the end of the week. The remaining applications unfortunately did not meet the criteria for the scheme due to discontinuous insurance cover,” said Minister Mallon. 

“I understand why some of these drivers changed their insurance so they could save money when they could not get any work. 

“I have always been focused on helping those in need and that is why the second scheme will provide a payment to them based on the period of time that registered drivers had the relevant insurance to drive a taxi.”