Just over half of Northern Ireland’s taxi drivers have applied for the emergency support grant

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Just over half of Northern Ireland's taxi drivers have applied for the emergency support grant made available for the struggling trade.

Payments of £1,500 were offered to eligible drivers to help with their overheads following a massive drop in business during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Out of just over 9,000 taxi drivers who were eligible to apply, only 5,000 applications were received.

Details were revealed at a Department for Infrastructure (DfI) meeting on Wednesday 9 December, which was aired live via the DoI website.

The scrutiny committee heard from five taxi operators who are now seeking financial help for those businesses which run cabs, as the current support packages available through the Government exclude taxi operators.

Stephen Anton, from Fonacab, said there were a number of reasons why more taxi drivers did not apply for the grant.

He said many had no access to computers to process the applications, while others were unaware of the financial support scheme, which was open for a fortnight in November.

He said many taxi drivers had not returned to work and, as a result, operators have been forced out of business.

Eamon O'Donnell, from North West Taxi Proprietors, said 30% of their drivers had quit and will be hard to replace in the current economic climate. Another taxi operator said that 35% of their drivers who are currently not working in the trade have stressed that they may never return.

O’Donnell continued: “Taxi operators provided an essential service to health workers and other key staff during the lockdowns.

“They were also on hand when families had to be moved into emergency accommodation overnight by statutory agencies.”

In many cases "coffers are now empty" and they need a meaningful support scheme to save firms from closure, Mr O'Donnell added.

On 29 October, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said a £14m package would go directly to taxi drivers.

She confirmed it would be a one-off cash payment of £1,500 to each eligible taxi driver.

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