Demand for North’s Covid shopping voucher scheme causes website difficulties

People urged not to rush at once to register for £100 high street scheme for all adults

Economy minister Gordon Lyons, with Milana Surova from memento Floral Design. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Economy minister Gordon Lyons, with Milana Surova from memento Floral Design. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Shoppers have been urged not to “rush at once” to apply for Northern Ireland’s high street voucher scheme, after the website experienced difficulties on the first morning.

The £145m (€170m)High Street Stimulus Scheme will see all those aged over 18 eligible for a £100 pre-paid card to spend on the high street, aimed at supporting local businesses which have been devastated by Covid.

But as the scheme opened on Monday, a number of people used social media to complain that were experiencing difficulties in applying for the card on the NI Direct site.

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

A spokesman for the North’s Department for the Economy said: “The website is currently experiencing some challenges associated with high demand.

“We are working quickly to fix this, but we always knew demand for the Spend Local card would be extremely high which is why we are giving people four weeks to apply.

“Please be patient, there is plenty of time for everyone to apply, receive and use their card.”

Economy minister Gordon Lyons said the application portal would be open until October 25th, so there was no need for everyone to register on the first morning.

He told the BBC: “Today is another step on the road to economic recovery and building a healthy economy, which is a key objective for me in this department and this scheme is a big part of that.

“I would encourage people to remember that it is open until October 25 so not everybody has to rush at once, there is a card available for everyone that is eligible and so I would encourage people to apply for that over the coming weeks and, of course, to spend it local in those businesses that have been most affected during the period of restrictions.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before, 1.5m people are eligible to apply for the card at this time and we always had expected there would be huge demand, it is a popular scheme for both individuals and businesses.

“I don’t think everyone will apply today. I think people will realise they have until October 25th, but during those periods where there is an awful lot of demand there is that safeguard in place so that the website is able to continue to operate.”

He added: “I want to help those businesses in particular that were affected by the restrictions and the lockdowns that were in place. That means local, this is spend local and it is spending in retailers and hospitality, but also in entertainment and leisure as well.”

All applicants will be asked to provide their name, address, age, gender, disability status, national insurance number, email address and telephone number.

The application portal will remain open until October 25, with the first cards arriving in the post on the week beginning October 4. The cards will be valid until November 30.

Retail NI has urged shoppers to consider making their application later in the week to reduce pressure on the online portal.

The group’s chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “If people can wait a few days before making their application, hopefully we can avoid any delays or problems with a rush on the online portal and they will receive their voucher on a timely basis.

“With a scheme of this ambition and size we are bound to experience some problems and would urge shoppers to be patient.”–PA