£68m already paid out to RHI recipients in Northern Ireland
Stormont has paid out more than £68m to recipients of the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme since payments began in 2013, new figures released to the Belfast Telegraph reveal.
The Department for the Economy said the total payout up until January 2017 is now £68,320,021. That annual cost is expected to rise significantly as the big rush to sign up to the scheme did not occur until October and November 2015.
The total cost is expected to top £1.1bn over the next 12 years, with £490m to be paid from the Northern Ireland government's budget and the remainder from the Exchequer.
Ofgem, the UK government's energy watchdog, is hired to oversee the payments, which are deposited into the recipient's bank account every three years.
This week it said it had detected just nine potential cases of fraud out of 2,000 non-domestic RHI applications.
Those nine cases range in cost from £48,000 to £2.5m.
Ofgem has been carrying out site visits in a bid to identify fraud.
The watchdog insisted it took a "zero tolerance approach to fraud" and investigates all instances of suspected fraud, "including acting upon referrals from third parties".
A spokesman said it referred fraud cases to the police when appropriate, but has not yet referred any RHI cases to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance party, warned there is "a danger in people assuming that everyone who had a boiler is in some way scamming the system".
"There are ordinary decent business people who are using it within the letter and the spirit of the law. Those people have done nothing wrong. There are others who saw an opportunity and they are abiding by the law but are exploiting it. Then there are those who are actively defrauding the scheme. They need to be charged with fraud," she said.
Meanwhile, businesses are covered by a temporary ban on revealing the identities of RHI boiler operators, a High Court judge has ruled. Mr Justice Deeny yesterday confirmed the continued prohibition extends to all members of a group taking legal action to stop Economy Minister Simon Hamilton publishing a list of those on the botched scheme.
He said: "There is no irremediable prejudice to the Minister in requiring him to hold his hand."
His order will remain in place until the outcome of a challenge listed for hearing in three weeks' time. A final judgment in the case is expected to be delivered before the elections on March 2.
More than 500 members of the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland have been granted leave to seek a judicial review of Mr Hamilton's plans to name them.
Their lawyers claim it would create a media "feeding frenzy" and threaten the reputation of individuals who have done nothing wrong. The RHI scheme was set up to encourage businesses and other non-domestic users to move from using fossil fuels to renewable heating systems.
But it has been surrounded by controversy since it emerged that users could legitimately earn more cash if they burned more fuel.