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The scheme is for businesses with one to nine employees facing immediate cash flow difficulties due to Covid-19 – including eligible social enterprises.

The Minister said: “This fund will provide much-needed support to micro-businesses so I would urge any business owners who think they may be eligible to apply before the closing date.

“This short term financial support will be vital for many businesses as we work towards the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy.”

The level of Hardship Fund grant will be up to £10,000 for businesses which pay business rates on premises and up to £5,000 for those that do not pay business rates. Businesses within each category will receive the same amount.

To be eligible, businesses must have experienced a reduction in turnover in excess of 40% since 1 March 2020 as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic or associated government restrictions.

For eligible businesses which are social enterprises without charitable status, at least 60% of their revenue must come from trade in goods and/or services.

Invest Northern Ireland is assessing applications, undertaking appropriate checks and processing payments.