East Antrim MLAs welcome end to taxi driver support ‘injustice’

Moves to provide a further financial assistance scheme for taxi drivers have been welcomed in east Antrim.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon announced yesterday (Thursday) she has received support from the Executive for the scheme, which will provide financial assistance to those whose insurance did not cover the full six-month period of the existing one and will provide further help for all drivers from 1 October until the end of this financial year.

The minister said: “This means that drivers who have benefitted from the first £1,500 scheme will be eligible to apply for a further £1,500 towards unavoidable overhead costs. The first scheme provided payments of £1,500 to over 4,100 taxi drivers, with some 90% of applications being processed for payment by the end of this week. The remaining applications unfortunately did not meet the criteria for the scheme due to discontinuous insurance cover.

“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.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.

“This scheme will open in early February once all of the required regulations are in place.”

East Antrim MLA David Hilditch MLA, who has been raising the issue directly with the department, welcomed the development.

He said he was “delighted to hear that a new scheme has been proposed which will include those who were excluded from the previous scheme”.

He added: “This will be worth £250 per full month worked from March 2020 to March 2021.

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs MLA, who highlighted the “injustice” of the initial Taxi Driver Covid Support Scheme at the Infrastructure Committee, was also pleased with the new arrangement.

He said: “Taxi drivers who had taken even a few weeks insurance holiday had a valid grievance when they were excluded from the initial Taxi Driver Covid Support Scheme.

“I am pleased that a new scheme has been proposed to the Northern Ireland Executive which would provide further support during the current lockdown and enables proportionate support to those who may have been previously excluded. It proposes that a £250 support grant be paid for each 30-day block period for qualifying taxi drivers.”

South Antrim DUP MP Paul Girvan, who had previously highlighted failings with the original support package, said: “When the details of the scheme were finally made public, it was obvious that this scheme would excluded hundreds of drivers in South Antrim.

“I warned the minister at the time that the scheme had many failings and the result would be that many drivers would not receive any support.”

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