A LOOPHOLE means that the poorest Scots taxi drivers are being "discriminated" against in a new £1500 grant support scheme for those affected by a huge drop in passenger numbers as a result of the pandemic.

The Unite Scotland union has said the poorest drivers are ineligible for the £1,500 grant on the basis they have previously applied for benefits.

The Scottish government said councils would contact the country's 38,000 drivers directly inviting them to claim the grant.

It follows criticism about the level of support offered to the industry.

The grant will be available for costs including licence fees and insurance payments for taxis not on the road.

Taxi journeys have fallen significantly since the start of the pandemic, with the Unite Union claiming 80% of taxi drivers have lost up to three quarters of their usual incomes.

READ MORE: Scots taxi drivers to mount Holyrood demonstration in fight for survival

But the union has warned that the criteria established as part of a new £57m funding prohibits taxi drivers from applying for the grant if they have been in receipt of state benefits payments like Universal Credit, Statutory Sick Pay, Employment and Support Allowance, Job Seekers’ Allowance and Income Support. Also losing out would be those who have applied for but not yet started receiving Universal Credit at the time of applying.

Unite said it had been "inundated" by reports from taxi drivers stating that because earnings have collapsed then they had no choice but to apply for benefits including Universal Credit.

In Scotland, it is estimated that there are over 37,000 taxi driver and private hire licenses in Scotland, and the union says many of the drivers have minimal or no access to government support schemes.

An online survey of over 200 taxi drivers released in December 2020 by Unite Scotland highlighted that many drivers are regularly working 16-17-hour days with a shift being determined as having been ‘good’ if £50 is cleared.

The survey also showed that 30% of drivers have been unable to access any financial help from government support schemes. For those that have been able to access financial help from government the biggest group (37%) reported that it represents less than 25% of their average earnings.

Unite Scottish Secretary, Pat Rafferty, said: “The trade has been afforded minimal support by the Scottish Government to date and what has been offered has been too little and too late. The new monies announced actually does nothing for those taxi drivers who have been hit the hardest and had to claim benefits such as Universal Credit because they will be ineligible.

"The poorest are being discriminated against which is disgraceful. The support for taxi drivers is also not as generous as in Northern Ireland or in Wales where the respective administrations have acted in a speedier fashion to address the major challenges facing the trade.”

In mid-December, taxi drivers mounted a protest at the Scottish Parliament to help assure the survival of an industry that dates back a century.

Concerns about the trade's future emerged as at that point nearly one in three have been unable to get financial support from government support schemes.

As self-employed workers, many cabbies have been entitled to benefit from the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), however the grant focuses heavily on the driver profits. The high operating costs involved in running a licensed taxi means many are still struggling to find enough work to tide them over until the pandemic passes.

Councils will start contacting eligible drivers this week to brief them on their potential entitlement and ask them to provide supporting information and bank account details. They do not need to apply, or contact the local authority.

Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, said: “We know how difficult this pandemic has been for taxi drivers and their families. They’ve truly gone the extra mile, continuing to provide a vital service for key workers and vulnerable individuals throughout the lockdown and beyond.

“Following the introduction of tighter regulations at Christmas I have trebled the budget originally announced for this fund to £57million, enough to provide grants of £1,500 to all of Scotland’s 38,000 taxi and private hire drivers.

“It will help to support the taxi trade by augmenting existing support and assisting drivers in meeting fixed costs including licence plate fees, rental fees and insurance payments for taxis not on the road.”

To be eligible for the financial assistance taxi or private hire drivers must be licensed for the period 9 October 2020 to at least 31 January 2021.

Drivers licensed for the period up to 31 December 2020, must also have experienced 50% loss of income compared with 2019.

In addition drivers’ must not have breached COVID-19 regulations and have no connections to tax havens, as set out in the Coronavirus regulations. They must declare all previous support from UK, Scottish or local government support schemes.