Around 1,000 people have been blocked from applying for the high street voucher scheme after being told their National Insurance number has already been used. he revelation came as one man told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show his wife was greeted with the message while applying, advising that her National Insurance number had been previously entered on the system. The Department for the Economy confirmed the issue was affecting a small group of people out of the almost 1million applications made to the GBP100 pre-paid voucher scheme. They said there is no indication "at this stage" the cases involved are linked to fraud and instead the Department pointed to applicants potentially making a mistake when typing their number.
It comes as the first 100,000 Spend Local cards were sent out to people on Monday. The GBP145m scheme will allow around 1.4m people eligible to use the card in "bricks and mortar" businesses. Speaking to the Nolan Show, caller Peter said his wife made the initial application for the card and when she got the link to fill in some further details, including her National Insurance number, was greeted with a screen telling her the number had "been entered already and used by someone else making an application".
"The only thing she could do about it was to email them [The Department for the Economy] and she just got a response back saying: 'We know about this issue' and that was it," he added. "Are they not checking the address of the applicant against the registered address of the National Insurance number? "Obviously if someone is doing this fraudulently, they will want the card shipped to a different address.
"So if they were checking the address this shouldn't happen and if they are not checking the address, then the system is wide open to abuse." Peter said as a test, he then went onto the system and changed two random digits of his National Insurance and was able to proceed to the next stage of the application. In a response, a Department for the Economy spokesperson told the Nolan Show: "After that first pass that you register your National Insurance number, the application will not be approved and indeed the card will not be issued until your data has been verified."
Peter added: "If my wife is typical, people are now worried: 'Has someone got my National Insurance Number, or is someone just trying to game the system randomly?' There is obviously a concern now, that your National Insurance Number is out in the wild." In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, a spokesperson for the Department for the Economy said: "While an applicant will be asked to provide their National Insurance number (NINO) to commence their application, the application will not be approved until the applicant's data has been verified. "To date around 1,000 members of the public (0.1% of applications) have contacted the Department to report that their NINO has already been used and that they are unable to make an application."
They added: "There is no indication at this stage that these cases represent fraudulent activity - for example, applicants may have made a mistake when typing in their NINO number and inadvertently used a number which belongs to another person. "The scheme has robust anti-fraud measures in place and this issue will be kept under close review. If someone thinks they have an issue with their NINO they should double-check they are using the right NINO and, if still having access issues, contact [email protected]"
The PSNI has been contacted for a response to this story.
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