AN INVESTIGATION has been launched after some taxi drivers say that tens of thousands of pounds in payments made to cab firms during the coronavirus lockdown have not been passed to them.

The row centres on council contracts handed out to taxi firms to provide school transport for pupils.

In line with government guidance, Blackburn with Darwen Council and Lancashire County Council continued to pay taxi firms for contracts they could not fulfill between May and July 2020 because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

Most contracted drivers continued to be paid during this period despite not being able to work, but some drivers said they were not.

Blackburn with Darwen said they were ‘aware of apparent non-payment to a small minority of drivers and have started an investigation’. LCC urged any drivers who believe they have lost out to contact them.

One firm which some drivers spoke out against has said they had a ‘robust grievance procedure in place’ and that those ‘logged on for work during the Covid-19 lockdown and carried out their contractual obligations have been paid’.

Other firms who carried on paying drivers said it was the ‘right thing to do’.

In a letter seen, by the Lancashire Telegraph, to taxi firms the county council said: “Lancashire County Council will pay 100% of your contracted daily price until at least the end of June 2020. "However the authority reserves the right to examine you have continued to pay your drivers the full amount that you would have paid the full amount that you would have paid them should the contracts have still been operating."

Mohammed Iqbal Ansari, 47 who has been a taxi driver for two years, said he had received nothing from City Taxis in Blackburn.

He said: “I was not able to work for months and I asked City Taxis if they would be paying me the contracted money. They said ‘no’."

Another City driver Faiz Akhtar said: “We asked for the money and were told it would not be paid. Nothing has been paid to the drivers as far as I am aware. This is totally unfair.”

A driver who used to work for Matrix Taxis Blackburn said: “I worked for them and was paid £240 per week for my contracts. After lockdown I should be paid that for the following months.

“I asked for this payment but it has not been forthcoming. It's unfair.”

Matrix Taxis were contacted for comment.

County Councillor Keith Iddon, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “Our support was vital to ensuring they could continue operating through a very challenging time and ensured that there were still firms in operation for when schools and colleges reopened.

"This money can be used to pay drivers' wages if they worked on county council contracts, provided the drivers or the operators did not claim Covid-19 related support through other Government schemes.

"If drivers claimed through the Self-Employed Income Support or firms used the Furlough programmes, they are not entitled to have their wages paid or topped up by the county council contract payments for this period.

"However, any drivers who believe they should receive payments from the county council funding should contact us and we will look into the issue."

A Blackburn with Darwen Council spokesman said: “The Council has enacted Central Government guidance in relation to the continuation of contract payments for school transport services to bus and taxi operators throughout the COVID-19 pandemic period.

“We have recently been made aware of apparent non-payment to a small minority of drivers and have started an investigation. Following the investigation, if non-compliance is clear, an audit will take place to determine correct procedures are followed in line with the guidance.”

A statement from City said: “We take allegations very seriously, and have a very robust grievance procedure in place, that has not been accessed by any of our drivers.

“All private hire drivers are self-employed, and therefore will have their own written contracts to fulfil.

“All our drivers who were logged on for work during the Covid-19 lockdown and carried out their contractual obligations have been paid.

“We have sent out periodically text messages and emails to all drivers to make sure of their welfare during these unprecedented troubled times, and if any of them felt the need to speak to us we are here to help them.

“None of our drivers have approached us with any grievance; however we are here to help if they would like to contact us.”

Intack Taxis who had up to 60 drivers on their books conducting contracts revealed they had handed over the money to the drivers as ‘it was the right thing to do’

A spokesperson said, “If you think about it ethically it was the right things to do. We handed it over to the drivers in June. We came to a decision that the drivers were going through hardship at the time and we should oblige to assist them.

“We are one a few companies who have done this.”

Brownhill Corporate Hire based on Higher Audley Street also paid their drivers.

The owner told us, “I believe in honesty and if the driver was sat at home it was important we honoured our commitment.

“I did what was honest to me and thought it was the right thing to do.”