People in Northern Ireland have been unable to apply to the devolved Government’s High Street Voucher scheme as it appears their National Insurance numbers have already been used to receive the discount.
Earlier this year, the Department for the Economy in the Northern Ireland Executive announced the launch of Spend Local cards, which offer residents in the country a £100 discount in participating retailers.
This was introduced in order to incentivise people to return to in-person shopping and revitalise the local economy.
However, around 1,000 people have not been able to apply for the scheme due a National Insurance error, which many are concerned appears fraudulent.
Yesterday morning, one man called into The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster to discuss how his wife was among the many people in Northern Ireland affected by this potential scam.
The man, named Peter, said: “She tried to apply for the card online, gave her email address and received her link back to click on to enter her details including her National Insurance number.
“A screen popped saying sorry but it appears your National Insurance number has been entered already and used by someone else making an application.”
Peter also raised questions as to how the scheme was being implemented across Northern Ireland.
He added: “She has had no contact whatsoever since she reported this.
“There are a couple of issues here but are they not checking the address of the applicant against the registered address for the National Insurance number?
“Obviously if someone is doing this fraudulently, they’ll want the card shipped to a different address.
“If they were checking the address this shouldn’t happen but if they’re not, then the system is wide open to abuse.”
Speaking to Belfast Live, a spokesperson for Stormont’s Department for the Economy reiterated that, so far, there is no indication of fraudulent activity.
The Department stated: “While an applicant will be asked to provide their National Insurance number (NINO) to commence their application, the application will not be approved until the applicant’s data has been verified.
“To date around 1,000 members of the public (0.1 percent of applications) have contacted the Department to report that their NINO has already been used and that they are unable to make an application.
“There is no indication at this stage that these cases represent fraudulent activity – for example, applicants may have made a mistake when typing in their NINO number and inadvertently used a number which belongs to another person.”
Earlier this week, Gordon Lyons, the Northern Irish Economy Minister, called on people to apply for the scheme and support their local retailers.
Mr Lyons said: “I am delighted that the process to issue the pre-paid cards is now well under way and that the first applicants will soon be able to use their cards to support their local retail, hospitality and services businesses.
“This will deliver the timely boost that they need to help them emerge from the economic shock caused by the pandemic.
“Since the opening of the portal last week, demand for the Spend Local card has been unprecedented.
“I would encourage those who have yet to apply for their Spend Local card to do so now on NI Direct.”
The Northern Ireland High Street Voucher scheme is scheduled to close on November 30, with all Spend Local cards being rendered void from that date.
Applicants have until October 25 to receive their card over the phone or through the Government’s online portal.