The deadline for spending the high street voucher pre-paid cards in a Northern Ireland scheme has been extended to 19 December.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said that 1.4 million applications for the scheme were received.

He said cards have been delivered to 99% of those applicants.

Mr Lyons said a delay in dispatching some of the cards was due to a number of reasons, including submitting evidence late, errors in applications and some duplicates.

"I'm assured that the vast majority of people have now received them. Indeed, we have £118 million worth of spend already injected into our local economy.

"That will go up in the coming days and I'm convinced that we will get those extra cards out to people in the coming days and that people will be able to spend them," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme.


Mr Lyons said there is a "very low" number of people waiting to receive their cards, adding 10,000 cards are being issued this week.

However, he said he recognises the deadline of next Tuesday may be tight for some, and announced he will extend it to Sunday 19 December.

"That's just giving folks a few more days so they can get out and get their card spent. It's in our interests, in their interests and in the interests of business to make sure these cards are spent and that we get that money back into the local economy again," he said.

Under the stimulus scheme, all those over the age of 18 are eligible for a £100 pre-paid card to spend, with the aim of supporting local businesses which have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Lyons said the scheme has "done absolutely what we had intended it to do".

"Local retailers have been telling me that the scheme could not have come at a better time because not only did it pull people in to the high streets and off online shopping during what was a low time for them in November, but the fact that it extended as far as it has, has helped because it has brought people that might otherwise not have spent money on the high street," he said.

"This scheme has worked, it has fulfilled its policy intent."

The Department for the Economy (DfE) said a number of people who received their cards have not yet activated them.