A high street voucher scheme which will offer pre-paid cards worth £100 to every adult in Northern Ireland will open for applications on 27 September.

Stormont's economy minister, Gordon Lyons, made the announcement during a visit to the Ormeau Road in Belfast, where he said the aim of the £145m scheme is to boost businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Lyons said an online portal which will enable everyone over 18 to apply for the card will be open from 27 September until 25 October.

In the week beginning 4 October, the first tranche of cards will be issued. On 11 October a phone service will open for those not able to access the online portal.

The cards can be used until 30 November, when the scheme closes.

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Mr Lyons said: "The objective of the £145m 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 on local high street 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 25 October this year to apply for their card.

"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."

The minister added: "By applying, receiving and ultimately spending your card with local businesses such as shops, hospitality and other services before 30 November, you will be doing your bit to support your local businesses."

Applicants are asked to apply through the NI Direct website and will be required to provide their name, address, age, gender, disability status, National Insurance number, email address and telephone number.

Information will then be checked against a number of government databases to verify identity.

Simon Hamilton, from the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the scheme.

"It has been an immensely challenging period for retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses and this £100 card will give local people the opportunity to actively help those businesses," he said.

"It is also a great way to support everyone who works in our local shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and other services.

"This scheme will provide a much-needed and very timely boost to those hard-hit sectors and make a massive difference to businesses as we emerge from the pandemic and edge towards recovery."

Economy minister Gordon Lyons talking to business owners on Ormeau Rd, Belfast

The Chief Executive of Retail Northern Ireland, which represents independent traders, said the group is strongly encouraging consumers to spend the £100 voucher with independent retailers.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Glyn Roberts said it will be "a very significant boost to hard pushed independent retailers".

He said 70p in every pound spent here is recycled around the rest of the economy and helps producers, farmers and manufacturers.

These retailers have lost so much, he said, adding that they have a lot of ground to make up and this voucher will help to do that.

"It's not a silver bullet, but a very significant start towards a wider recovery".