Belfast Telegraph

Department for the Economy defends RHI legal cost limiting agreement

A Stormont department has defended an agreement made with a group representing Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) boiler owners which limits the group's legal costs.

It is understood the agreement puts a limit on the amount that the Renewable Heat Association for NI (RHANI) must pay to cover the Department for the Economy's legal costs from the group’s unsuccessful judicial review last year.

The case challenged cuts made by the department to RHI tariffs.

A DfE spokesman said: “The Department has agreed to a voluntary protective costs order in this case, equivalent to those afforded in an Aarhus convention case. 

"The department’s objective in doing this was to reduce the risk of liability for costs in all courts, in the event that it is unsuccessful in the appeal or in any future appeal.  In such a case, this order will greatly reduce any costs falling to the public purse.”

RNANI, which represents more than 500 members who own 1,100 boilers, has appealed the decision which cuts tariffs for boiler owners.

However, the DfE has said it is confident its case before the Court of Appeal is a strong one and that it will continue to defend the action taken to control the RHI scheme.

The spokesman added: “The absence of ministers does not prevent the department from defending cases taken against it.

“The department now benefits from capped exposure (of £35,000 maximum) to RHANI’s substantial legal costs. 

“This measure also has the effect of avoiding an outcome similar to that on the release of participant names, where the department received the permission of the Court to publish, but nevertheless had to pay the applicants legal costs which were significantly higher than its own.”

A major public inquiry is taking place into the botched RHI scheme.

It was set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the energy initiative after its costs spiralled.

The scheme offered financial incentives to encourage businesses to switch to using renewable fuels to generate heat.

But flaws in the scheme meant that its claimants could earn substantial returns, far greater than intended.

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