List of 821 ‘cash for ash’ scheme beneficiaries released

Companies and individuals received more than £62 million in Renewable Heat Incentive scheme

The Northern Ireland RHI system was flawed becaus there was no cap placed on usage of the boilers while grants were overgenerous.  File photograph: Getty

The Northern Ireland RHI system was flawed becaus there was no cap placed on usage of the boilers while grants were overgenerous. File photograph: Getty

 

More than 800 individuals and companies received £62 million under the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, the North’s Department for the Economy disclosed Wednesday.

The department issued a combined list of 821 successful applications for grant aid for renewable heat boilers from Northern Ireland individuals and companies. An initial list of companies only was released in March.

So far the department has paid out £62,147,240 to both companies and individuals from the opening of the scheme in 2012 to February 28th this year. Companies received more than £27 million, while individuals received about £35 million.

The average payment to each recipient so far was about £75,700 while a small number of individuals received payments of more than £600,000. One poultry farmer received more than £900,000 to date. Anyone who received less than £5,000 was not named.

“Inclusion in the list does not, in any way, imply wrongdoing by any of the beneficiaries,” the department emphasised in a statement.

“The department wishes to make it very clear that the sole reason for publishing this list has been in the interests of transparency,” it said.

It added that it was “important that no one should prejudge the outcome of the planned audits or make incorrect presumptions based on the department’s decision to release these details”.

Forty eight beneficiaries were successful in their applications not to have details of their RHI grants publicly disclosed. This was for a range of reasons including health and security concerns and other “extenuating circumstances”, explained a department spokeswoman. These accounted for more than £2 million in payments.

The Renewable Heat Association NI (RHANI), which represents about 500 beneficiaries of the scheme, criticised the department for publishing the names. A spokesman said “the numbers being circulated seem to be misrepresented by up to 300 per cent per year”.

“We are disappointed to see the release of individuals’ names by the Department for the Economy and must ask the question as to why the department has put so much effort into naming the scheme participants who are suffering as a consequence of its own (DfE) process in setting up and managing the RHI scheme,” he added.

“The names, grades and salaries of the civil servants who designed, managed and policed the scheme are not available on the Department for the Economy website,” said the spokesman.

The controversy over the so-called “cash for ash” scheme led to the collapse of the last Northern Executive and Assembly in January. The late Martin McGuinness stood down as Deputy First Minister in protest at DUP leader Arlene Foster’s refusal to stand aside as First Minister pending the outcome of an investigation into the scheme. This brought down Stormont.

A public inquiry headed by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin has been initiated to inquire into allegations of incompetence and corruption in the setting up and running of RHI. Public hearings are due to begin in the autumn.

The Northern Ireland RHI system was flawed because, unlike the system in Britain, there was no cap placed on usage of the boilers while grants were overgenerous. In the North for every £1 that was spent on the heating systems users got back £1.60 in subsidies.

Without restrictions on the system it was estimated that it would result in an overspend of up to £490 million over the 20-year lifetime of the scheme that would have to be borne by the Northern Ireland taxpayer.

Before the dissolution of the last Assembly the DUP Minister for the Economy Simon Hamilton introduced legislation to put a cap on future RHI payments for a period of a year. When the year is up there are also proposals to introduce a long term limit on the payments.

However, there are also questions about whether or not RHI scheme beneficiaries entered into 20-year contracts that are legally binding. Many users said they entered the scheme in good faith and that any restrictions could damage or destroy their businesses.