I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 33 and 48 together.
I recognise that the SPSV industry has been badly affected during the Covid-19 pandemic that, for an extended period, brought about an almost complete collapse in passenger demand for taxi and other SPSV services. While recent months saw a welcome return of demand, with the NTA reporting 86% of drivers back at work in October, the recent increase in infection rates has given rise to the necessary reintroduction of a number of restrictions. Conscious of the potential impact of such restrictions on affected sectors and society in general, particularly as we approach what is traditionally a busy period around Christmas, the Government has sought to ensure that any restrictions are targeted and appropriate. It is continuing to monitor the situation closely as it develops.
In the meantime, I confirm that the vast majority of measures that we have taken to support the taxi industry from the start of the pandemic remain in place. I understand that as many as 70% of SPSV drivers availed of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, at the height of the pandemic. As the Deputy may be aware, the PUP reopened for a limited period to support people who lose their employment as a result of Covid restrictions from Tuesday, 7 December. Self-employed SPSV operators can continue to claim the PUP and earn up to €960 in any given eight-week period, net of expenses.
Drivers coming off the PUP can avail of the Covid-19 enterprise support grant, worth €1,000, which will meet the costs associated with returning to work and that will remain in place for the rest of the year for self-employed people who close their PUP claim. Taxi drivers can use this grant for the purchase of personal protective equipment, protective screens and cleaning materials. The employment wage subsidy scheme, which provides a flat-rate subsidy to qualifying employers based on the numbers of eligible employees on the employer’s payroll and gross pay to employees, is now expected to continue until 30 April 2022.
In addition, support for SPSV operators continues to be available, both now and into 2022, through a series of specific measures designed to support the sector, with a view to addressing statutory costs faced by operators that cannot be deferred. Standard licence renewal fees for SPSVs were waived in 2021 and they are being waived again in 2022 at an estimated cost of €3 million. The NTA has put schemes in place to refund motor tax paid by SPSV operators in the period 1 September 2021 to 31 August 2022 and to waive national car test fees for the same period. Further details on these schemes are available on the NTA website. The NTA has also waived standard age limits for taxis and hackneys through to the end of 2022, thereby ensuring that no operator exits the industry simply because of the need to replace a vehicle. Many of the major costs faced by SPSV operators, such as insurance and dispatch operator fees, can be deferred or cancelled during a period of inactivity.
Recognising that the replacement of a vehicle is the single largest cost faced by any SPSV operator, and in view of my commitment to support the transition of the SPSV fleet towards zero- or low-emission vehicles, we have confirmed that there will be a further reiteration of the current eSPSV grant scheme in 2022, following the allocation of funding for next year as part of the budget 2022 process. There has been an exceptionally high uptake of this grant scheme in 2021. It received a total of 1,488 applications and, at the beginning of November, €8.5 million had been paid to applicants, with the remainder of funding allocated to applicants with current provisional grant offers.
In addition, Microfinance Ireland announced in September that loan finance, up to €25,000, is now available to support applicants to the scheme, as many SPSV owners were finding it difficult to secure finance from banks and other commercial lending providers. Further information on this facility is available from Microfinance Ireland.