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Northern Ireland households to get £200 voucher

written by Bella Palmer

Separately, there is over £200m in support going to businesses facing the impact of coronavirus restrictions

Households in Northern Ireland are in for a £200 new year windfall after a Covid relief funding package from the Executive brought a £95m voucher scheme to help our high streets.

Retailers will be toasting the early Christmas present and while the details are to be finalised, Finance Minister Conor Murphy said it was estimated to work out at £200 for every household.

Separately, there is over £200m in support going to businesses facing the crippling impact of coronavirus restrictions - though one boss warned that fast delivery would be as crucial as the support itself.

And company bosses whose means to make a living were cut off by the pandemic but had failed to qualify for other support have said they are relieved after they were told they would get £20m from the total package of £300m announced on Monday.

Such businesspeople had called themselves 'Excluded NI' after they didn't qualify for help such as the self-employed income support scheme.

There's also help for the vulnerable, with disabled people on higher disability benefits and older people on pension credit to receive a one-off £200 heating payment as part of a £44.3m package.

The details of the voucher scheme and whether it will be subject to rules barring spending with grocery giants such as Tesco have not been confirmed.

The Department for the Economy, which will administer the scheme, said on Monday night: The delivery of a NI-wide High Street Stimulus scheme will help to encourage people to shop local and visit local retailers, putting much needed revenue straight into local businesses. The Department for the Economy is currently developing the scheme including the voucher amount and how it will be delivered.

Operationalising a scheme of this scale and nature is incredibly complex and officials are working hard to develop its parameters. It is anticipated that the scheme will 'go live' in the new year and will be subject to public health guidance, it said.

And £55m has also been provided to extend the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme (LRSS) to non-essential retail, leisure and entertainment firms which will have to shut from Friday under the new two-week lockdown.

There is also £20m to extend the 12-month rate holiday to the manufacturing sector, £10.6m for 1,000 wet pubs and £5m to top-up the tourism and hospitality scheme, among other allocations. The Department of Finance said that nearly £19m had already gone out to 5,043 businesses under the LRSS. Around 1,230 applications have been deemed ineligible.

In total, 12,000 applications have been received, with the department saying that staff are "working hard to process all applications as quickly as possible".

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said: The £95m that will be given to households to spend on the high street is particularly welcome as it creates a virtuous circle of spending that will support retailers in the leaner months of January and February as well as being of huge benefit to those households whose budgets are already squeezed. This will make a tangible difference to the high street, to livelihoods and to lives.

Angela McGowan, CBI Northern Ireland director, said: NI hospitality firms and entrepreneurs have been crying out for extra help for some time.

Targeted support that helps both households and firms in the lead up to Christmas will go part-way to cushioning the blow of what's been a very difficult year. Fast delivery is going to be as critical as the financial support itself, McGowan said.

Meanwhile, the Department for the Economy is continuing to process applications for the Covid Restrictions Business Support Scheme, which was set up to support firms which have had to close due to restrictions imposed from October 16 but were not covered by the Department of Finance scheme.


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