The Department for the Economy has outlined the reasons it opted not to include under-18s in the High Street Voucher Scheme. Earlier this week, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons announced that the public will be able to apply for the scheme in just under two weeks. The pre-paid 'Spend Local' cards worth GBP100 will be available to anyone 18 and over in Northern Ireland to spend on their local high street in "bricks and mortar" businesses.
Northern Ireland will be the first country in the UK to launch a voucher scheme of this kind which cost GBP145million and will aim to boost local businesses following the drop in footfall brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. But concerns have been raised in recent weeks about the exclusion of teenagers from the High Street Voucher Scheme. The Department for the Economy said it had carried out an equality impact assessment, which has since been published online.
The assessment stated that "the impact regarding age is judged to be minor", adding that there were regulatory and financial concerns around issuing cards to minors. This included 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. According to the department, a policy decision was taken to restricting eligibility to those aged over 18 for the reasons below:
?Regulatory/Financial Issues - there are some regulatory/financial concerns around issuing cards to minors: for example if cards were to be issued to parent/guardians on behalf of a child, significant issues around consent and fraud may arise, with unacceptable risks for the appropriate governance and control of the scheme. ?UK GDPR- If under 18s were included the Department would have to consider, and where necessary, implement the child specific duties imposed by the UK GDPR - additional to the general provisions. The Department would need to craft a process which is compliant with the additional protections specific to minors which could delay the launch of the scheme.
?Verification issues - no datasets currently exist which could be used to confirm the identity of 16./17 year olds. To verify this cohort it would lead to an increase in cost which might impact on the overall policy intent of the scheme and delay its introduction which was to provide a stimulus for local businesses. Speaking on the Ormeau Road, Retail NI's High Street of the Year, on Tuesday, Minister Lyons revealed a number of key dates that the public need to be aware of when apply and spending their vouchers.
The online application portal for the scheme will be open from September 27 to October 25, through NI Direct online.
The first tranche of cards will issue to those who have successfully applied for the Spend Local pre-paid card on the week commencing October 4.
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