Nearly £6m has been paid out by the Department for the Economy to around 1,700 people who've claimed for support under the Newly Self-Employed Support Scheme (NSESS), Business Telegraph can reveal.
Brian Donaldson, who has so far been one of the most outspoken critics of government support for the self-employed, said the scheme had been a welcome intervention.
A total of 2,875 people have applied to the NSESS, which was launched in December, the department said.
It was created to fill gaps in other schemes set up to help the self-employed, including the main UK Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
The NSESS is for people who started self-employment in 2019/20 and whose business and income have been hit by Covid-19. Eligible applicants get a one-off taxable grant of £3,500. Trading profits for 2019/20 must be below £50,000.
Under the SEISS, over 50% of self-employed people's income in 2019/20 had to be from self-employment. This has been tweaked to allow those who started self-employment later in the financial year to qualify.
A DfE spokesman said: "As of midnight 18 February, 2,875 applications have been submitted for the Newly Self-Employed Support Scheme. By close of play today (Friday February 19), 1,687 applicants will have received over £5.9m in grants from this scheme. Applications continue to be processed."
Economy Minister Diane Dodds had said NSESS would serve those who "are being ruled out on technicalities" of the SEISS "despite being very much within the group the scheme aims to assist".
Applications for the scheme closed last Friday. Mr Donaldson, who is leading the #ExcludedNI campaign in support of those who have been left out of schemes, welcomed news of the number of people helped by the scheme.
He said: "The original scheme stated that you had to have made over 50% of your earnings from self-employment which made it difficult for someone who worked PAYE for part of the 2019/2020 year.
"It has been slow to get the money to these people but it's still the most lucrative self-employment scheme out of all the devolved nations and it's reached a lot of people that would not have had support.
"The point we make is these schemes are not there to fund businesses, but to cover that person's loss of earnings to help them provide for their families."
Mr Donaldson, a self-employed chef who works for the Northern Ireland football team and has previously worked at Croke Park in Dublin, added that there are still some self-employed people omitted from schemes, particularly those who became self employed in 2018/19.
He estimates that there are around 5,000 self-employed people here that fall into that category.
He also said that more self-employed women have been impacted during the crisis than men.
"Women have been hit harder and are occupying around 60% of the self-employed demographic whose work has been impacted by Covid-19. That's because over the past few years there has been a lot of female entrepreneurship with a lot of mothers getting back to work after maternity and doing it through their own business. We have a lot of hairdressers who rent chairs in salons, beauticians and childminders who have had minimal support."
Mr Donaldson said that in spite of challenges facing those who have fallen through the cracks of existing support schemes, the Executive has been helpful.
He said: "I have to thank the departments. I can be accused of bashing them. I'm representing people, I like to get the point across to them and I understand they have a lot more on their plate than I do but they do a lot of good work."
The father-of-one is working alongside the DfE and the Department of Finance to ensure other gaps in schemes are filled.
Meanwhile up to 250 hoteliers are set to benefit from the Large Tourism and Hospitality Business Support Scheme next month. The department said the eligible hoteliers will be provided with an application form which needs to be completed and returned with supporting evidence.
"The scheme will make a one-off payment based on weekly amounts of between £2,400 and £41,900 depending on an individual business NAV. The grants will be issued to successful applicants in March."