‘Spend Local’ Vouchers For The Homeless

Homeless people and asylum seekers in Northern Ireland will be able to apply for a £100 high street voucher through “trusted partners” this month, reports the BBC.

Organisations helping the homeless community and people in temporary accommodation can apply on their behalf for a pre-paid card. The organisations will collect application details of individuals who do not have a permanent address and the ‘Spend Local’ card must be used in shops before 30 November. Meanwhile, a phone application service will open on 11 October for anyone who does not have access to the internet.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said the phone line may be slightly busy at the start although he expects most applications will continue to be online. “This is another way to try to catch everybody we can,” he told BBC Radio Ulster. Mr Lyons said he had been hugely encouraged by the response to the scheme after the first 100,000 cards were issued. He urged people to use their cards and said any unspent cards would be returned to the economic recovery action plan.

The £145m scheme is designed to boost activity in businesses hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, like non-essential retail and hospitality. The Department for the Economy said it expects to receive applications from organisations that work with asylum seekers and the homeless community by 25 October. Their details will then be sent to the card provider and cards will be “distributed as soon as possible thereafter”. It is then the responsibility of those organisations to distribute the prepaid cards to their service users.

The Welcome Organisation provides support for people affected by homelessness in Belfast, as well as crisis accommodation for vulnerable women. Jo Daykin-Goodall, its chief executive, said the voucher “will give those people a financial uplift that they wouldn’t normally have”. “They’re as entitled as anyone else to it and we’re delighted to be a part of ensuring they have access to it,” she said. “Homeless people live on the poverty line – they don’t know where their next meal is coming from and a lot don’t have very many items.”

She added that “quite a number of people have contacted us” wanting to use their £100 prepaid card to support services provided by the Welcome Organisation. “We have a wish list available with underwear, sleeping bags, food items that we need – that list will be available to members of the public who ask for it,” she said.

Ms Daykin-Goodall said the Welcome Organisation will use its headquarters’ address when applying on behalf of service users who do not have a permanent home. “We will be focusing on rough sleepers and people who are sofa surfing, living in squats or in non-standard and temporary accommodation who require help.” She said caseworkers and support workers are aiding the homeless “to help them decide on spending the money wisely”. “I expect a lot will use it for clothes or footwear for winter.”

Nicola McCrudden, who heads up the Council for the Homeless, said it is important “that individuals experiencing homelessness are able to exercise their entitlement to the £100 pre-paid card”. “This money can be a lifeline for many, including families, and can help towards basic necessities like food, clothing and fuel costs. People experiencing homelessness often find it difficult to access services because they don’t have a permanent address.” She said its members who provide homelessness services are working with the Department for the Economy to ensure that service users receive their cards.

There were 3,402 households in temporary accommodation in Northern Ireland as of August this year. Within these households, there were 3,596 children living in temporary accommodation. There were 8,610 people who presented themselves as homeless in Northern Ireland between January and June 2021. Almost anyone aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland can apply for a Spend Local card – about 1.4m people will be eligible. Prisoners are not entitled to a voucher.