50,000 £100 NI high street voucher scheme cards still not verified
Approximately 50,000 people who applied to the £100 high street voucher scheme have still not had their identities verified, the economy minister has said.
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 £100 pre-paid card to spend with the aim of supporting local businesses, which have been devastated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Lyons was asked to give an update on the scheme during ministerial question time in the Assembly yesterday.
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 £100 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.”
Last week, the deadline to spend the cards was extended from November 30 until December 14.