Belfast Telegraph

RHI claimants unable to prove their financial hardship claims, say Stormont officials

'Tokenism,' says organisation representing RHI boiler owners

The RHI scheme was deeply flawed.
The RHI scheme was deeply flawed.

A majority of RHI boilers owners have claimed they are facing financial difficulty hardship because of the scheme’s tariff changes.

However, the Department for the Economy (DfE) said many were unable to provide proof to back up their claims.

It said many indicated a preference to deal with an independent person or panel who would consider the issue.

The department has appointed energy expert Andrew Buglass to examine the issue of hardship of those who took part in the RHI scheme.

The Renewable Heat Association, which represents some boiler owners, described the move as “tokenism” which would not help ease the hardship faced by those on the scheme.

Many of the boiler owners have said they are faced with mounting debts after signing up to loans based on assurances from government of the payments they would receive over a 20-year period.

Legislation passed through Westminster in March significantly reduced the subsidies paid to boiler owners to stop the payments spiralling out of control.

RHI landed Stormont with an overspend bill once projected at almost £500million.

The average payments for boiler owners in Northern Ireland dropped from around £13,000 to £2,200 a year. This compares to average payments of £5,300 in Great Britain.

There are around 2,100 boiler owners enrolled in the scheme.

The chairman of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry Sir Patrick Coghlin (Colm Lenaghan/PA)
The chairman of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry Sir Patrick Coghlin (Colm Lenaghan/PA)

Mr Buglass was appointed following a Call for Evidence process with boilers owners which took place in the summer.

It sought evidence of the financial hardship faced by those on the green energy scheme as a result of changes in the tariffs.

The majority of the 78 respondents claimed they faced hardship, but only a minority submitted sufficient supporting evidence to the department, the department stated.

Stormont officials said Mr Buglass was an independent consultant with significant experience advising on energy schemes and will engage with participants to consider and seek evidence of hardship suffered by businesses as a result of participation in the RHI scheme.

He will develop a relevant definition of hardship, investigate its presence and make recommendations to the department on any appropriate course of action.

Mr Buglass intends to report to the department before the end of the year.

RHI was intended to incentivise farmers and other business owners to switch to wood pellet burning boilers by offering them a subsidy to purchase the fuel.

Catastrophic errors at government level meant subsidy levels were set higher than it actually cost to buy the pellets, so applicants were effectively able to make a profit on public money by burning boilers without limits.

An inquiry into the RHI scandal was chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin.

He is set to publish the inquiry’s findings later this year.

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