Failure to deliver £100 Spend Local cards causing anxiety to households: MLA
The failure to deliver £100 Spend Local cards is causing anxiety in many hardpressed households, according to MLA Claire Sugden.
The independent MLA for east Londonderry told Neighbourhood Retailer that despite a second extension of the spend deadline to midnight on December 19, it seemed likely that some applicants still wouldn’t receive the money in time.
“I am expecting that whenever the deadline passes that a number of people will come to me saying they never got their card despite applying for it,” she said.
The MLA said she has received numerous queries from constituents who have had their Spend Local cards verified but never received them.
“It’s causing a lot of anxiety for people,” she said,.
“People have written to me saying they wanted to spend it on something nice but will have to spend it on heating oil. So people do need this money, not least in relation to rising energy prices.
“Some of the people have done everything that was required of them, but I still had to verify the information for them. They came in with their utility bill, photographic ID or birth certificate. If I was able to verify them, I don’t understand why the system hasn’t done it.”
Ms Sugden said she was contacted by one man who had provided everything required.
“Then he got an email on Monday saying they were going to close his application because he had not provided the information required – but everything had been done perfectly. I don’t know if there is some weird black hole where people’s emails are going. I think communication is what has been poor through this,” she said.
When the system works, it works well, Ms Sugden said.
On Small Business Saturday she was speaking to the owner of one small niche business in Colerine who calculated that more than 100 cards had been used in her shop to date.
“If they could have ironed out the kinks in the process from the outset, so that it was a bit more robust, it could have worked very well,” she said.
By Wednesday December 8 afternoon, more than 99% of cards had been delivered, according to the Department for the Economy.
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said “there has been a delay” in dispatching some cards.
While more than 1.4m people have applied for a voucher, the department said “approximately 10,000” cards were still to be received.
“Some applicants submitted evidence late, some errors were made and some duplicate applications were made and those had to be verified before they were sent out,” Mr Lyons told BBC Good Morning Ulster.
He said £118m has been injected into the local economy since the scheme began and the scheme has helped increase the number of shoppers in Northern Ireland to their highest point so far compared to pre-pandemic levels.