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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland taxi drivers plead for support

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Many taxi drivers are self employed and struggle to find support.

Many taxi drivers are self employed and struggle to find support.

Many taxi drivers are self employed and struggle to find support.

Taxi drivers have made an urgent appeal to the Northern Ireland Executive to provide support as they deal with a near total loss of income.

The Belfast Public Hire Taxi association urged the finance and infrastructure department to consider grants to support the industry.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon moved to assure drivers her officials were working on measures to alleviate pressures brought about by regulation demands.

"I understand this is a really worrying time for you and you are being hit very hard by the scale of this public health and economic crisis," the minister said in an open letter.

"While my responsibility for taxis only extends to the regulation of the industry, I am aware of the increasing financial hardships this crisis is creating, with my Executive colleagues I pushed hard to secure the self-employed financial package announced by the British Government last week.

"While it is not perfect, it will go someway to helping self-employed people, like those within the taxi industry, to help put food on the table and pay bills. With Executive colleagues I will continue to press for more assistance.

She said she was working with the Department of Communities on social distancing advice for taxis which she hoped would be ready as soon as possible.

Gerry Maxwell of Belfast Public Hire Taxis said the message did not go far enough.

"We need actions, not words," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I know one driver sat for nine hours and had one job. I asked him why he sat so long - and he said he was desperate for the money.

"It is getting tougher by the day and there is no support for us. In the Taxi Act of 2008 there is provision to give us grants. Why can we not get these grants?

"We have car payments, insurance, mortgages and also have to pay for testing - we pay £138.50, that's more than anyone else - and now is the time we need their support. We pay rates like any business, but without the building. Yet there is support for businesses.

"Also we urgently need social distancing advice - how can you social distance in a saloon car?"

Mr Maxwell said drivers had recently bought new cars and could not get them tested in order to start work.

"We are at our wits' end. I am not confident they can help us. We have been told to go on to universal credit, but not everyone qualifies. We have been told to try the government self-employed support scheme. But June is a long way away."

He said drivers had considered offering delivery services for the vulnerable but fear of spending any extra money on the likes of fuel would put them off.

He added: "Banks will charge you for a loan of they lend you anything. There are no holidays on car payments - we need our Executive to stand up for us."

Nichola Mallon said taxi drivers should explore opportunities on how they can take the pressure off vital services such as delivering food supplies and the Executive was considering how to re-purpose laws to allow for them to support.

"I know this is a difficult time for you, but in dealing with the impact of Covid-19, we are facing theses challenges together," she added.

"I want to assure you that I am doing and will continue to do, everything within my power and remit as infrastructure minister to help you though this crisis and I will continue to work with Executive colleagues to do as much as we can together to help you for as long as the crisis lasts".

The infrastructure, finance and communities departments have been approached for comment.

Belfast Telegraph