Around 50,000 applicants to Northern Ireland's high street voucher scheme are still awaiting verification in order to receive their GBP100 card, the Economy Minister has confirmed. Gordon Lyons also revealed that one case of potential fraud in relation to the Spend Local cards is currently under investigation by the PSNI. Under the stimulus scheme, all those over the age of 18 in Northern Ireland are eligible for a GBP100 pre-paid card to spend with the aim of supporting local businesses, which have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Monday it was announced the deadline for providing documentation to prove people's identity is Friday November 12. The November 12 deadline relates only to cases where applications have been unable to be automatically verified against government databases. Further information has already been requested from these individuals to confirm they live in Northern Ireland and are over the age of 18, said the Department for the Economy.
The deadline to actually use the GBP100 high street voucher scheme card has also been extended to December 14, giving eligible members of the public an extra fortnight to spend their card. The minister said issues around verifying the identity of around 160,000 people had led to the decision to extend the deadline. Mr Lyons was asked to give an update on the scheme during ministerial question time in the Assembly on Tuesday.
He told MLAs: "There were 1.436 million applications made to the high street scheme. Nearly all of the applicants who have submitted evidence have been processed. "There are approximately 50,000 who have yet to provide the necessary evidence who are still to be verified.
"All of these people will have received either an email or a letter in the post asking them to provide further information. "There is currently one instance of potential fraud involving an application to the high street scheme under investigation by the PSNI." DUP MLA Maurice Bradley asked the minister what more could be done to encourage people to spend the cards in shops which were forced to close during the Covid pandemic.
Mr Lyons said: "Ultimately the power is in the people's hands. We have used this scheme to try and help local businesses but everyone who has received their card has a role to play. "It is up to people to decide where to spend their card, but my message is to spend local and to make sure that everything that is left on the card is spent."
SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole asked Mr Lyons if he would publish data that outlines where exactly people spent their GBP100 to analyse the efficiency of the policy. The minister said: "It is still early days in the amount of money which is being spent, we are seeing fluctuations in where that is going. "However, the anecdotal evidence we have received so far has been deeply encouraging.
I am hearing from local businesses that it has been a terrific lift for those independent retailers.
"I think it is the case that the public see this as an opportunity to help businesses, they want to help local businesses, in particular those who were closed.
That is the evidence we are getting already."