More than 750 licensed taxi drivers in Toronto received welfare payments over two years, according to an audit requested by a councillor who fears some cabbies are "playing the system."
City Auditor-General Jeff Griffiths found that 1,539 Ontario Works recipients who reported earning no income for all or part of 2010 and 2011 had municipal business licences at the same time.
Of those, 759 were licensed as taxicab drivers, 170 as holistic practitioners and 104 as burlesque entertainers. The rest held licences allowing them to work at more than 15 other kinds of jobs, including as tow truck drivers, buskers and building renovators.
The audit stops short of calling the behaviour it uncovered fraud because possession of a business licence is not proof it is being used.
But Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who asked for the audit after receiving complaints from cabbies, said the findings merit further investigation.
"I suspect some of them [licensed taxicab drivers] aren't working and genuinely need the assistance," he said. "But I do believe, based on the information that I've received, that there are cheaters who are playing the system. We need to catch the cheaters."
Jim Bell, the president of Diamond Taxi and a director at the Canadian Taxicab Association, said that not all of Toronto's approximately 10,000 licensed taxi drivers work full-time all-year round.
Some are seasonal agricultural workers who drive primarily in the winter. Others are part-time or occasional drivers and some simply suffer illnesses or injuries that prevent them from getting behind the wheel.
"There are people out there that have a taxicab driver licence and they remain licensed kind of as a rainy day fund," Mr. Bell said.
The report, which goes before council's audit committee next week, found that $20-million in financial assistance was paid to the more than 1,500 clients with business licences in 2010 and 2011.
The auditors reviewed a sample of 30 recipients and found the majority did not tell Toronto Employment and Social Services, which administers welfare in the city, they held business licences.
The report recommends stronger record keeping and systematic cross-referencing of welfare applicants and business licence holders.
"While possessing a business license does not necessarily mean that income is being earned, such a situation may create a higher potential that income is being earned and not reported," according to the audit.
"In these circumstances it may be appropriate to enhance controls and procedures in the eligibility verification process."