New support fund for taxi drivers branded 'farcical'
A new £57m fund announced on Monday to help drivers hit by the pandemic has prompted a major backlash, after it emerged that drivers on universal credit won’t be eligible to apply.
Unite union claims the new support package is discriminating against drivers who are on benefits, while trade continues to be hammered by Covid-19 restrictions.
Councils are due to contact the country's 38,000 drivers this week encouraging them to claim the one-off grant of £1500 for costs including licence fees and insurance payments for taxis not on the road.
But furious drivers have accused the government of “incompetence, corruption or both”, after Union leaders said the criteria would mean up to seventy per cent of drivers wouldn’t be able to apply.
It comes as the Evening News can reveal that some drivers have been forced to take out business loans to pay regular bills including council tax.
One driver who asked not to be named said:
“I have had to take out a £12,000 business loan to pay off my council tax debt. I got a threatening letter through the door about it. I was terrified I’d end up in court. I hoped to get help from this fund but it's turned out to be a farce. Most of the drivers I know can’t even apply. It’s going to cause absolute chaos.”
Furious cabbies for Edinburgh’s official licensed taxi page said of the fund on twitter: “It is an indefensible position to hold and resignations are going to be called for over this nonsense.”
Jacqueline Dunn, regional organiser for Unite said: “Drivers are so angry. Around seventy per cent get universal credit so the majority of drivers in Scotland can’t apply for this grant. The reason stated that if they get the cash it affects UC is a mistake. We have checked this.”
"More needs to be done, sooner. Drivers have been sinking more into debt. People see cars out on the road so think it must be okay, but it’s far from it. Our hands are tied.”
Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary Maurice Golden said: "Like so many other SNP business support measures, this money is long overdue. But it comes with strings attached, making it inaccessible to many who are in desperate need.
"The SNP government urged taxi drivers to claim Universal Credit yet are now penalising them by using these claims as an excuse to block payment of the new lifeline grants.
"These drivers are on their knees through no fault of their own.”
Scottish Labour economy spokesperson Alex Rowley has written to the Economy Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, calling for the package to be “fixed” so that struggling taxi drivers don’t miss out on support.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Universal Credit payments reduce as a person’s income increases so we are concerned that any payment would simply be deducted from an applicant’s benefits. Without a change, making these payments would benefit the DWP, not the drivers.
“We are calling on the DWP to amend their criteria to ensure that drivers on UC can benefit from the full £1500 payment – if they make that change we will amend our criteria.”