Northern Ireland High Street Voucher Scheme: Almost 500,000 apply for £100 spending card

The new High Street voucher scheme got off to a rocky start yesterday morning as the web page for applications crashed shortly after it went online.

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 7:44 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 7:51 am

But by early evening more than 475,000 requests for applications had been made on the first day.

The £145 million High Street Stimulus Scheme will see all those aged over 18 eligible for a £100 pre-paid card to spend, aimed at supporting local businesses which have been devastated by Covid.

Demand for the scheme was so high that the online application portal was hit by problems shortly after it opened yesterday morning, with a number of people taking to social media to complain that were experiencing difficulties in applying for the card on the NI Direct site.

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Shoppers on the high street in Belfast.

Some said the site had crashed, while others had not immediately received a verification email after entering their details.

But Stormont’s Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said that the problems were quickly resolved.

He said: “Nearly 15% of the population has now started their applications for the Spend Local card. This is an excellent first day.

“We were always clear that demand for the Spend Local card would be extremely high.

The webpage to the apply for the High Street voucher scheme pre-paid card on the NI Direct website which opened on Monday.

“There is still ground to cover and this is why we have allowed four weeks for people to apply.

“Everyone will have enough time to apply for their card.”

But the figures so far have been extraordinary.”

In total there were 475,081 applications, with 96,986 of those completed on Monday.

Shoppers were urged to show patience as the new stimulus scheme, which will see aound 1.5 million people offered a pre-paid card similar to a credit or debit card worth £100, opened.

While the online portal appeared to come back online, several consumers took to social media to voice their concerns about the difficulty in accessing the web page.

The scheme is designed to reinvigorate businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent restrictions.

Those restrictions, meanwhile, were branded draconian and undemocratic by an outspoken critic of the Northern Ireland Executive’s approach to the pandemic — DUP MLA Paul Frew.

Mr Frew’s remarks came as he pressed deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill in the Assembly on how long emergency powers taken by the Executive would remain in place.

Ms O’Neill said the coronavirus regulations will “remain in place for as long as necessary to protect the health and wellbeing of our people and to reduce the pressures on the health service particularly coming into the autumn winter period which is predicted to be a difficult period.”