A new £40m Stormont grants scheme has been criticised for excluding sole traders and some social enterprises.
Social enterprises are businesses which reinvest their profits for a social purpose.
Many of them were not covered by the previous coronavirus grants scheme.
The new scheme, announced two weeks ago, excludes social enterprises with charitable status and those that get less than 60% of revenue from trade in goods or services.
Colin Jess, Director of Social Enterprise NI said: “Our members trade as businesses and we have asked for parity with other businesses.”
He said that ruling out enterprises with charitable status was the biggest problem and had caused dismay across the sector.
“The additional criteria of ruling out those with charitable status shows a misunderstanding of the business model,” he said.
“If all other criteria are met, they should be able to access the fund.”
The new hardship fund is being targeted at micro-businesses and social enterprises unable to access other regional and national coronavirus support measures.
Businesses being ‘left behind’
To qualify businesses must have employed between one and nine people on 29 February.
However, businesses where where the sole employee is the business owner or director do not qualify.
The business must also be able to show that since 1 March they have suffered a reduction in turnover in excess of 40% as a direct result of pandemic or associated government restrictions.
The criteria around social enterprises and sole traders has been criticised by Sinn Féin.
Their economy spokesperson Caoimhe Archibald said the new fund was expected to be a lifeline for some firms.
“The criteria set by the economy minister means once again these businesses have been left behind,” she said.
“These businesses have been under significant pressure to meet financial commitments to keep their businesses open but effectively they have been abandoned yet again.”
The Department for the Economy has been contacted for comment.