Taxi drivers are being urged to avoid loan sharks as many drivers feel forced to put themselves at risk from coronavirus to pay their bills.

Bolton Council has encouraged struggling drivers to seek financial help through the government, but the self-employment income support scheme will not be open for online applications until May 13.

Many drivers across the borough simply cannot wait until then, and are having to make the difficult decision to return to work without personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure there’s enough food on the table.

Shahid Kazi, 38, is a driver who has returned to work.

He lives in Daubhill with his elderly parents, and had stopped driving to protect them from the virus.

Mr Kazi said: “It’s definitely not been easy, there’s a very hard balance at the moment between keeping your family safe and paying the bills.

"I live at home and my parents are 80 but I've had no choice but to go back to driving, bills need to be paid.

“It's a very dangerous job at the moment, you're licensed to carry four passengers at a time and they're in very close proximity to you.

"You don't want it to impact your family but there's just no right choice."

Mr Kazi has searched for other jobs to help him through the lockdown, but has only been able to find temporary roles offering zero-hour contracts, which won't give him the stability he needs to keep paying for his car.

On top of his regular insurance, upkeep, MOT, and licensing fees, Mr Kazi has also had to spend £250 to install a perspex screen in his taxi to separate himself from his customers.

He said: ""I put the screen on my credit card but a lot of drivers are just using cling film between passengers and themselves

"Not everyone has a credit card so I've been lucky to be able to put it on there but it still needs repaying.

"Getting hold of PPE is hard, it's not very readily available. I had to wait two weeks for my mask and gloves and when I run out I'll have to pick between putting myself in danger and not driving which means I can't put bread on the table."

Even though Mr Kazi has returned to driving, other drivers being forced back to work because of financial difficulties, and fewer people using the services, has left drivers seeing fewer and fewer fares each day.

The stress is also taking a toll on the drivers' mental health, with Mr Kazi admitting he feels guilty for not working.

He added: "I feel like I've let down the community by not working.

"We're normally there 24/7 to help key workers and people who aren't as mobile get to where they need to be but we're scared of getting the virus.

"I know the government has lots of plates to spin because this is not something that any one has prepared for but maybe they could give drivers some help.

"We don't expect freebies but even just having somewhere we could go to get gloves, masks, or screens at a good rate would be helpful.

"Most people who are working are doing it through necessity. It's very dangerous but what can I do? I've got no choice."

Mr Kazi, who works for taxi firm Metro Cars, isn't the only person struggling with their finances during the lockdown.

Many of his coworkers have found themselves in similar situations, and are struggling to keep themselves afloat.

Nick Astley, owner of the firm, has a lot of drivers who are struggling with their finances.

He said: “I’ve done taxiing for a long time and I’ve never seen anything as horrific as this, it’s a very frightening time. There's nothing I can do or say to them to help and it's very traumatic.

“The drivers that we’ve got working are all on reduced rent but there’s only so much any one person can do, I really feel for them.

“In this industry, and probably the ame for a lot of them, lots of people work on a day by day basis. They rely on making money that day to keep them afloat and they don’t have a great deal of savings to fall back on. To see people suffering is really really upsetting.

“It’s difficult and I really hope everybody stays safe and gets through it."