Northern Ireland’s economy minister has said details of the high street voucher scheme will be announced within days and urged people to be patient.
Anyone in Northern Ireland aged 18 and over who applies on the NI Direct website will be eligible for the £100 pre-paid card.
Gordon Lyons stated that he and his officials were ensuring that it was implemented in the “right and proper manner.”
There has been confusion about the start date for the scheme.
In August, the Department for the Economy said it hoped to launch the scheme after 12 September but no further details have since been provided.
“In terms of the high street scheme,” Mr Lyons said, “I hope everyone can be patient for another day or two.”
“I’m hoping to make an announcement on that very, very soon.”
I know there’s a lot of anticipation out there, and people are looking forward to using their gift cards.
“I’m looking forward to them getting out there as well, so we can give our economy a real boost in the short term while also, hopefully, changing behaviours and bringing people back into the high street in the long term.”
‘Right and proper way’
Mr Lyons stated that his department must ensure that “this is done in the right and proper manner.”
“In the meantime,” he said, “I would encourage people to consider how they can spend their prepaid cards to help boost the local economy and assist those businesses that have struggled for so long.”
An SDLP assembly member had previously expressed concern that some people might have difficulty accessing the scheme.
According to Mark H Durkan, some older and vulnerable people who do not have access to the internet “may end up missing out.”
The Department for the Economy stated that a phone line would be set up for those who were unable to apply online.
People will also be able to register to fill out an application on behalf of a “limited number” of others.
Mr Durkan wrote to Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, asking if her department could assist with the voucher’s roll-out, according to BBC News NI.
He stated that because some older people may not be able to use computers or have relatives or friends who can assist them, there is a risk of “potential exclusion of vast swaths of that cohort” from the scheme.
The assembly member has requested that the minister automatically issue the vouchers to pensioners whose information is already on file with the Department for Communities.
“Not only will it ensure that everyone who is entitled to access gets access, but it will also relieve a lot of pressure on the system when it does open,” Mr Durkan told BBC News NI.
“There may be a negative economic impact if fewer people use this voucher.”
Analysis: Voucher scheme concerns remain
By Richard Morgan, BBC News NI business reporter
We’ve been talking about Northern Ireland’s high street voucher scheme for 10 months now and it continues to grab headlines.
The £100 pre-paid card is available to every adult over the age of 18 at a cost of £145m.
A portal for applications should open in the coming weeks as officials want the money spent before the end of November.
The intention is to encourage spending at retailers that have been badly affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns, with a ‘shop local’ message attached.
Concerns have been raised in the past about who will be eligible, with calls to extend the scheme to include 16 and 17-year-olds.
Accessibility for some groups has also been an issue brought up at Stormont’s Economy Committee.