The long awaited high street voucher scheme will launch next week with members of the public being able to apply from Monday.

Anyone over the age of 18 can apply for the £100 High Street Scheme from September 27.

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 from September 27 until October 25.

He also announced a number of other key dates. They are:

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 October 4.

“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.”

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.