The long-awaited Northern Ireland High Street Scheme (HSS) will be open from September 27 with cards ceasing to be valid on November 30, it has been announced.
On a visit to Belfast’s Ormeau Road – which was recently announced as Retail NI’s High Street of the Year – Economy Minister Gordon Lyons announced that the online portal which will enable anyone aged over 18 and over to apply for the £100 Spend Local pre-paid cards – will be open September 27, until October 25.
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons also announced a number of other key dates.
Week commencing October 4 – First tranche of cards will issue to those who have successfully applied for the Spend Local pre-paid card.
October 11 – Telephone service will open to support applications from people not able to access or use the online portal.
October 25– High Street Scheme online portal and telephone services will close.
October 25 – the last qualifying date for those turning 18 to be eligible to apply for a Spend Local card.
November 30– High Street Scheme closes and the Spend Local pre-paid cards will cease to be valid.
The Minister said: “Now is the time to get ready to Spend Local. I am delighted to announce that the online portal will open to receive applications in just under two weeks with the first tranche of Spend Local pre-paid cards to issue the week beginning 4th of October.
“The objective of the £145million High Street Scheme is to boost local businesses following the drop in footfall brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. By giving everyone aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland a pre-paid card worth £100 to spend in local high businesses, we will encourage many more customers back through the doors of local retail, hospitality and services.
“I would encourage everyone who is over 18 by October 25 this year, to apply for their card between September 27 and October 25. We expect demand to be high so please be patient if the online portal is busy just after it opens. It is important to remember that everyone will have at least four weeks to spend their card.
“By applying, receiving and ultimately spending your Spend Local card in local businesses such as shops, hospitality and other services before November 30, you will be doing your bit to support your local businesses.”
The Minister was joined by Chris O’Reilly, Chair of Ormeau Business Association, Simon Hamilton of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, Glyn Roberts of Retail NI and local traders.
Welcoming the scheme, Mr O’Reilly said: “We would like to welcome the Minister to the Ormeau Road – the High Street of the Year. Like many other local high streets across our towns and cities, the Ormeau Road is home to a diverse range of shops, restaurants and pubs which have felt the impact of the pandemic through a reduced number of customers coming through our doors. The High Street Scheme will deliver just the boost we need right now. I am sure I speak for many traders across Northern Ireland when I say we are looking forward to seeing customers using their Spend Local cards.”
Mr Hamilton said: “Belfast Chamber is delighted to support the launch of the Department for the Economy’s Spend Local card. It has been an immensely challenging period for retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses and this £100 Spend Local card will give people the opportunity to actively help those businesses. It is also a great way to support everyone who works in our local shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and other services. This scheme will provide a much needed and very timely boost to those hard-hit sectors and make a massive difference to businesses as we emerge from the pandemic and edge towards recovery.”
Mr Roberts said: “Retail NI has been a strong advocate for the High Street Scheme as a stimulant to support economic recovery. This £100 pre-paid Spend Local Card will be a much needed welcome spending boost for many retailers and our High Streets as whole. Our sector has suffered significantly during the pandemic and the High Street Scheme has come at the right time. I encourage consumers to spend this card with local retailers to boost our economy.”
From September 27 to October 25, applicants will be asked to apply through NI Direct. For verification purposes in order to reduce the risk of fraud and error, each applicant will be asked to provide: name; address; age; gender; disability status; national insurance number; email address; and telephone number.
Applicants will also have the option of including a driving licence number to enable verification. Once the applicant has completed the registration process their information will be checked against a number of government databases to verify their identity.
The portal is expected to be extremely busy in the days after it opens. Applicants are reminded that the online portal will be open for four weeks and everyone will have a minimum of four weeks to spend their card.
Applicants should receive their Spend Local card within 7-10 days of making their application. When an applicant receives their card, they will need to verify the card through a computer-operated phone system or text message and make the first payment using a pin, before they can start to use it for contactless payments.
The cards can be used in all participating businesses in Northern Ireland. They cannot be used online or for gambling or some financial and legal services.
The telephone support service will open on October 11. The later opening of the telephone service has been implemented to encourage more people to apply online when the portal opens on September 27 and avoid using the phone line leaving it available for those who do not have access to, or are not able to use, the internet.
A public information campaign across television, radio, press and social media will begin on September 16 to keep applicants up-to-date with the scheme