Everyone in Northern Ireland to get £100 to spend in bid to boost struggling high streets

All adults in Northern Ireland will receive £100 to spend at local high street shops as part of a country-wide scheme to boost businesses that were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gordon Lyons, Stormont’s economy minister, announced the £145m scheme during a visit to Ormeau Road in Belfast on Tuesday.

He said: “The objective of the £145m high street scheme is to boost local businesses following the drop in footfall brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“By giving everyone aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland a pre-paid card worth £100 to spend on local high street businesses, we will encourage many more customers back through the doors of local retail, hospitality and services.”

An online application portal will open from 27 September and remain open until 25 October, through the NI Direct website. Applicants will be required to provide their name, address, age, gender, disability status, National Insurance number, telephone number and email address – which will all be checked against government databases for identity verification.

For those unable to access online services, a phone service will be launched on 11 October.

Applicants are expected to receive their Spend Local cards within 10 days, with the first vouchers being issued during the week of 4 October.

Before they can be used, the cards will need to be verified through a computer-oriented phone system or text message, and the first purchase made on each card will require the use of a pin code before it can be used for contactless payments.

Minister Lyons encouraged all adults to apply for their card, but also called for patience as he expected high demand could lead to long wait times on the online portal.

“We expect demand to be high, so please be patient if the online portal is busy just after it opens. It is important to remember that everyone will have at least four weeks to spend their card.”

He added: “By applying, receiving and ultimately spending your card with local businesses such as shops, hospitality and other services before 30 November, you will be doing your bit to support your local businesses”.

The Belfast Chamber of Commerce welcomed the voucher scheme. Simon Hamilton, the chamber’s chief executive said it would give local businesses a “much-needed and very timely boost”.

“It has been an immensely challenging period for retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses and this £100 card will give local people the opportunity to actively help those businesses,” he said.

“It is also a great way to support everyone who works in our local shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and other services.

“This scheme will provide a much-needed and very timely boost to those hard-hit sectors and make a massive difference to businesses as we emerge from the pandemic and edge towards recovery.”

The plan was also celebrated by the Ormeau Business Association. Chris O’Reilly, chair of the Association, said: “Like many other local high streets across our towns and cities, the Ormeau Road is home to a diverse range of shops, restaurants and pubs which have felt the impact of the pandemic through a reduced number of customers coming through our doors.

“The high street scheme will deliver just the boost we need right now. I am sure I speak for many traders across Northern Ireland when I say we are looking forward to seeing customers using their Spend Local Cards.”

The pre-paid cards will be accepted by any shops and businesses that accept credit and debit cards for payments but will not be valid for online purchases. Similarly, the cards cannot be used for gambling.

The balance on the cards will remain valid until 30 November when the scheme is set to end.

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