High Street vouchers to be issued in early October

  • Published
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The £100 cards aimed at boosting the retail and hospitality sectors will be issued from next month

Northern Ireland's High Street voucher scheme will open for registration on 27 September with the first cards being issued on 4 October.

The £145m programme will offer pre-paid cards worth £100 to all over-18s.

It aims to help those businesses in retail and hospitality which were hit by the pandemic.

The £100 cards will have to be spent by 30 November, with registration happening primarily through an online portal.

People without online access can register by phone from 11 October.

To be eligible for a card you must have registered by either method by 25 October.

Image source, Ben Birchall/PA Wire
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Small business owners have welcomed the scheme but wonder just how much trade it will bring their way

"Now is the time to get ready to spend local," said Economy Minister Gordon Lyons.

"The objective of the scheme is to boost local businesses following the drop in footfall brought about by the pandemic."

He has urged people to be patient when registration opens as there will likely be high demand.

The minister made the announcement on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast where traders welcomed the news.

Business owner Sinead Cashman said the money would be a boost at a time when there was a "natural lull" and "people have a few less pounds in their pocket to spend".

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Economy Minister Gordon Lyons visited businesspeople on Belfast's Ormeau Road - including florist Milana Surova - to announce the start of the scheme

Jenni Doherty, from Little Acorns bookstore in Londonderry, said it would be great if the voucher brought more visitors to her shop but for those on the bread line, this voucher was "a real gift".

"Yes, it will give a lovely little boost but I'm not relying on it," she told Radio Ulster's Evening Extra.

"Individually, as a citizen of the city, I will be spending it locally in other walk-in shops.

"I don't think myself and a lot of other independent businesses would have survived the various lockdowns without the local community."

Theresa Murray, who runs Linen and Latte in Glengormley, said she felt overjoyed initially at the idea of the voucher but now feels flatter.

"It's a very positive thing to do but when you have a small business, there are various challenges," she said.

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Vouchers must be spent in an actual physical shop

"It has been an extremely tough year for everybody.

"People will use it for things they haven't been able to get... that leaves us in limbo."

There will be few limits on how the card can be used - it must be spent in a physical premises and cannot be used for gambling.

Jersey's scheme saw more than £10m spent with a 98% take up rate among the eligible population.

The sectors which benefitted the most from the scheme were:

  • £4.1m in wholesale and retail businesses
  • £2.2m in supermarkets, fast food and food retail
  • £1.5m in hotels, restaurants and bars
  • £510,000 on health, education and other services
  • £350,000 on utilities and waste

The final £1.4m was spent in a variety of industries ranging from agriculture and fishing, transport and storage, and construction and quarrying.

Under-18s complain over scheme exclusion

Confirmation of dates for the scheme comes after a number of young people submitted complaints to the Department for the Economy about their exclusion from it.

The under-18s who have complained about being excluded are being assisted by the Children's Law Centre (CLC).

It said their complaints were made on the basis of the department overseeing its roll out not publicly consulting on the policy and failing to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment before making a decision to exclude under-18s.

A spokesperson for Department for the Economy said it had carried out an equality impact assessment.

The assessment, which was published online on 10 September, stated that "the impact regarding age is judged to be minor".

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The pre-paid card cannot be used for online shopping

Policy officer at the Children's Law Centre, Claire Kemp, said equality screening was carried out "only after we lodged a complaint with the department", and that it was completed just days before the scheme was scheduled to go live.

"This policy has not been rushed, yet fundamental steps to avoid discriminating against protected groups, including young people, have been ignored or delayed to the extent of rendering them meaningless," she said.

The department's assessment stated that there were regulatory and financial concerns around issuing cards to minors, child-specific data protection issues and verification problems as no datasets currently exist which could be used to confirm the identity of 16 and 17-year-olds.

Hospitality Ulster's Colin Neill said the scheme would give a real boost to the Northern Ireland economy, including the hospitality sector

"We would encourage all those eligible to receive the £100 voucher to apply as soon as possible and, where they can, spend it with local hospitality businesses, supporting not just their local bars, restaurants, hotels and coffee shops, but their friends and family that work in them," he said.

On Tuesday, SDLP assembly member Mark H Durkan expressed concern that some older and vulnerable people without internet access "could end up missing out".

The Department for the Economy said a phone line would be available for those unable to apply online.

People will also be able to register to complete an application on behalf of a "limited number" of other people.