Applications have opened for the newly revamped Enterprise Support Grant, designed to assist the self-employed as they get back on their feet following Covid-19.

The grant, worth up to €1,000 per person, is aimed at sole traders such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and taxi drivers, who do not pay commercial rates and therefore do not qualify for the Government's Restart Grant Plus Scheme.

The Enterprise Support Grant previously supported entrepreneurs who were setting up new enterprises.

It has now been revamped to specifically provide once-off supports for self-employed people who have been severely affected and have had to cease operations as a result of the pandemic.

Funding for the scheme was agreed during negotiations on the July jobs stimulus package.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the self-employed are crucial to our economic recovery and the grant "will help them get back on their feet".

"Whether it's paying wages, fuel costs, purchasing PPE or signage this is an important grant to assist the self-employed to reopen their business and get back doing what they do best: Providing crucial and essential services in their communities.

"So if you're a plumber, carpenter, beautician, gardener or electrician who is transitioning back to work, or the taxi driver getting your car back on the road, this grant may be of interest to you," Minister Humphreys said.

People who have reached the state pension age will not be eligible for the grant. 

The Department of Social Protection has said that this grant will assist those people who moved from the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment into self-employment and have closed their claims on or after 18 May.

This means that those who have reached the state pension age cannot avail of it, a spokesperson for Ms Humphreys has confirmed. 

The grant seeks to support micro self-employed enterprises, not currently eligible for similar grant funding through other departments.

The support is available to small business owners who employ fewer than ten people, are not liable for commercial rates and have an annual turnover of less than €1m.

It provides kick-start funding to those enterprises that do not have an entitlement to other business re-start grants.

It will be paid on the basis of expenditure incurred by an applicant to reopen their business covering their costs up to €1,000.

The department said anyone wishing to apply for the grant can download the application form on welfare.ie and, when completed should be sent to their local Intreo Centre.

Brian Nolan of the Connect trade union, which represents some 40,000 workers in the construction sector, has cautiously welcomed the new grant.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Nolan said any assistance is going to be welcomed.

He said there is a major concern for the trade unions and workers about the abuse of self-employment and he hopes it gets into the hands of the right people.

"The grant is most welcome for those genuinely deserving of it and entitled to it," he said.

"But we would be cautious about the fact that we don't want something effectively enhancing or making more appealing the abuse of self-employment.

"And by that I mean where workers are engaged and they are paying their taxes as if they are self-employed but in fact they are not. It is an abdication of responsibility, of entitlement."

Mr Nolan said there are some sectors that have gone back at full speed and others trickling along so this grant will help those in particular.

Separately, he is calling for face masks to be mandatory on construction sites around the country.

He said: "A lot of sites have adopted it and we support them 100%. If we are operating on a basis that we can keep it outside every workplace we are fooling ourselves."

He said there is merit to wearing masks to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and called on all their members to follow the advice of public health experts.

A taxi company chief executive has said he welcomes the Enterprise Support Grant.

Vinnie Kearns, Xpert Taxis chief executive, said he hopes it will be seen as a positive by taxi drivers.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sarah McInerney, Mr Kearns said he made a submission to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response last month, where he highlighted an anomaly that taxi drivers do not pay rates and were not eligible for any grants.

He said his company is getting phone calls from taxi drivers all the time who are on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment asking is work improving and is it worth their while coming back to work.

Mr Kearns also outlined the current difficulties for taxi drivers trying to make a living during the pandemic.

"If I look at the social activity with no concerts, no sporting events, few pubs open and near to no travel, these are all sources of business for taxi drivers.

"We were among the first to be affected by Covid-19 and we will be among the last to recover."