Got a TV Licence?

You need one to watch live TV on any channel or device, and BBC programmes on iPlayer. It’s the law.

Find out more
I don’t have a TV Licence.

Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today...

    "This train is certainly in on time," says Joseph Aiken as the inquiry finishes exactly when he promised it would.

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    Tomorrow will bring evidence from David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and the return of former DETI permanent secretary Dr Andrew McCormick.

    Kick-off is at the usual time of 09:45 - have a great evening in the meantime...

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI politics reporter

    The body that administered the RHI scheme failed to tell a Stormont department of multiple warnings about the potential for the initiative to be exploited, it emerged.

    Ofgem had been contracted by the enterprise department to run the RHI.

    The RHI Inquiry

    Inquiry panellist Dame Una O'Brien said it was "unbelievable" that Ofgem knew of the scheme's potential risks but had not told Stormont officials.

    The inquiry heard of one example of scheme exploitation in England, where sheep farmers were said to be selling their flocks and "raking in money from RHI".

  3. 'Fortunately Brexit not in inquiry's terms of reference'

    Inquiry panel member Dr Keith MacLean refers to a Westminster review of utility regulators and what might happen "in a post-Brexit world".

    Demort Nolan says he couldn't possibly comment on Brexit and Dame Una O'Brien quips: "Fortunately that is not in our terms of reference!"

    A union flag an an EU flag

    Sir Patrick thanks Mr Nolan for making two trips from London to to Belfast and for dealing with a great volume of documentation.

    "It is not an easy function to discharge" he says.

  4. 'Culture has changed within my organisation'

    There has been "cultural change" within Ofgem in its attitude to running energy scheme's like the RHI, assures Dermot Nolan.

    The RHI Inquiry

    There is much more frequent contact between administrators at Ofgem and civil servants at Stormont's economy department to keep them informed that the RHI is operating as it should be, he says.

    The "single most important thing" is that says his organisation should be open to regular "external scrutiny" and should "commit to that".

  5. 'Our behaviour over RHI was very poor'

    The evidence that inquiry has seen about some of Ofgem's work in relation to the RHI scheme has been "deeply discomfiting", admits the organisation's chief executive Dermot Nolan.

    Dermot Nolan

    He accepts that the administrator was "very poor" at communicating concerns about the problem with single claimants installing multiple boilers to maximise their subsidy income.

    "I don't know what would've happened had DETI been fully informed but I accept it was very poor behaviour," adds Mr Nolan.

  6. 'If people want to exploit taxpayer cash they'll have to live with that'

    When they were told about the "Shropshire RHI farm" that had eight biomass boilers, officials who were running the GB RHI scheme said it didn't make much financial sense.

    Surely the complications in installing so many separate heating systems made it far too expensive, they thought.

    It would indeed have been a fair bit pricier than fitting just one or two big boilers but that extra expense would've been easily covered by the far bigger amount of subsidies that the farmer stood to collect.

    A biomass boiler

    Inquiry barrister Joseph Aiken says the response by officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was "rather naive".

    When the case was put to DECC's head of market intelligence, he said: "If people feel morally justified in gaming, or exploiting the taxpayer that's something they'll have to live with."

    That response causes more bafflement for the inquiry panel, who are surprised that a senior civil servant - required to be a steward of public funds - would react in that way.

  7. 'Poultry farm? It might be better called RHI farm'

    In December 2014, Ofgem received word from an industry insider about "deliberate tariff manipulation" on the RHI scheme.

    It included a case study from a company called Edge Renewables about a Shropshire poultry farm.

    Dame Una O'Brien

    There were eight poultry sheds and eight biomass boilers contained in what was described as an "energy centre".

    Eyes roll in disbelief, with Dame Una O'Brien saying: "It might be better called a Shropshire RHI farm."

    The case study goes on to explain the positive benefits of the installation and the amount of money scheme participants could recover.

  8. 'Farmers selling their sheep to rake in RHI money'

    "Quite a few" sheep farmers in one part of England were selling their livestock and "just raking in the money" from the Great Britain RHI scheme, Ofgem was told in February 2014.

    They were looking for good reasons to have multiple biomass boilers installed, a senior official recounted in an email to the Whitehall department that was running the initiative.

    Dame Una O'Brien is astonished: "That is unbelievable.

    A sheep sticking its tongue out

    "To be honest, here we are in the last week of the inquiry and the fact that we can still be shocked..."

    Last time Ofgem's Dermot Nolan gave evidence, the inquiry heard the same official had been told that a Scottish farmer "sold his entire herd of cows" to fill his sheds with biomass boilers on the RHI.

    But Ofgem didn't share any of that "stark" information with DETI.

  9. 'Clear mistake not to inform DETI of RHI concerns'

    It was "clearly a mistake" for Ofgem not to tell DETI of critical concerns it had about how the RHI scheme could be exploited when they emerged in 2013, admits chief executive Dermot Nolan.

    A senior official at Ofgem wanted the RHI in Great Britain to be thoroughly re-examined after it emerged that the rules were so loose that they allowed people to "game the system".

    It came after an article in the Farmers Weekly newspaper in 2013 that outlined how a poultry farmer with 11 boilers stood to earn £11.6m over 20 years.

    Jacqueline Balian, who was the head of Ofgem's RHI operations, told colleagues the "feeling was we should not just go ahead" and approve applications "where there could be significant reputational impact".

    Dermot Nolan

    Inquiry barrister Joseph Aiken says it shows that officials were considering where the balance lay between applying the GB RHI's rules as they were set out and the proper use of public money.

    But the concern was never shared with DETI, which was running the Northern Ireland RHI scheme, which was largely based on the GB model and had similar loopholes.

    At that point, there was just a handful of claimants on the RHI scheme - Mr Aiken says that's a "rather seminal point" and had DETI been informed there is a chance that something could've been done to close the loopholes before hundreds more applicants signed up.

    Mr Nolan expresses his regret and admits that the "last few hours has been justifiably difficult".

  10. Inquiry resumes after lunch break

    The RHI Inquiry

    We'll be honest, it was a bit of bland morning at the inquiry.

    We can't promise any fireworks this afternoon either but you never know...

  11. Time for the buffet car...

    A train stopped at a halt

    Counsel Joseph Aiken, who's fond of a railway metaphor, says the inquiry train has arrived a wayside halt.

    The journey continues at 14:00...

  12. 'Shock to system if multiple boilers issue had been known'

    It would've been a "shock to the system" for DETI if it had known the extent of the multiple boilers problem on the RHI scheme, says Joseph Aiken.

    In administering the scheme, Ofgem held the details of all beneficiaries and their registered heating systems registered but didn't share the information with the department until a later date.

    Joseph Aiken

    Mr Aiken says a "significant number" of applicants were prepared to spend big on multiple small boilers rather than take the cheaper option of a buying a single larger boiler because they were "being persuaded of the return that they could harvest" in RHI subsidies.

    In March 2015, there were 110 cases of multiple boilers with "apparently the same owner", says the inquiry barrister.

    Ofgem's Dermot Nolan accepts that the scheme administrator didn't have a grasp of the gravity of the multiple boilers issue.

  13. 'Multiple boilers the main driver of RHI expense'

    The practice of claimants installing multiple biomass boilers instead of a single larger unit has been the "main driver of the expense" of the RHI scheme, according the expert consultants at CEPA.

    Of the 2,128 boilers registered on the RHI, 97% fell into the category that was eligible for the most lucrative subsidy rate on offer.

    A biomass boiler

    "There were many instances of a single beneficiary having more than one boiler," said the consultants.

    Inquiry barrister Joseph Aiken says the issue of multiple boilers added "significant" cost to the RHI.

    The consultants estimate that anything up to 53% of the overall cost could've been saved by DETI disputes that claim.

  14. 'Top 10% of RHI claimants collected 42% of subsidies'

    Almost three quarters of applicants to the RHI scheme wanted to install multiple boilers, according to analysis by an external consultancy firm last year.

    Joseph Aiken reveals the figures - complied by Cambridge Economic Policy Associates (CEPA) - to the inquiry.

    Wood pellets

    The consultants said that in spite of the "sometimes widespread view that all users exploited" the scheme the data shows "only a minority accounted for a considerable majority" of the money paid out.

    The top 10% of all RHI claimants collected for 42% of the total amount of subsidies paid until the end of February last year, the data shows.

  15. 'Why didn't Ofgem address obvious burn-to-earn cases?'

    Sir Patrick Coghlin says the rules of the RHI scheme "made it absolutely clear" that claimants could not produce heat predominantly to earn a return in subsidies.

    But he hasn't seen "any consideration" of that in Ofgem's work in administering the scheme and checking the behaviour of RHI beneficiaries.

    One common practice, referred to as the gaming of the scheme, was for claimants to install multiple small biomass boilers to meet their heat requirement rather than a single larger unit in order to obtain a higher subsidy that was on offer for smaller installations.

    A biomass boiler

    Many of the heating systems registered on the RHI are made up of multiple boilers and that massively increased the overall cost of the scheme.

    Sir Patrick asks what other motive there could be for doing that "other than to maximise your return".

    He's critical of Ofgem, saying that there were "clearly obvious examples" of claimants using the RHI to earn money and he wants to know why they weren't addressed.

  16. 'We didn't work together to prevent RHI exploitation'

    Ofgem clearly didn't work closely enough with DETI to prevent some claimants exploiting the RHI scheme to maximise their income of subsidies, admits Dermot Nolan.

    The scheme's rules were so loosely drawn that it was perfectly legal for people to run their boilers around the clock, producing unnecessary heat with the sole purpose of generating RHI money.

    A hand holding sterling cash

    Mr Nolan says Ofgem and DETI should've been working together to "see the loopholes that have been there and close them".

    He fronts up and tells the inquiry that if there "had been better communication" between his organisation and DETI it could've led to the rules being tightened.

    And he says that was "something that I think we clearly... did not do well at all".

  17. 'DETI determined to go ahead with RHI come what may'

    Emails were circulating within Ofgem in summer 2012 about the RHI scheme's potential for encouraging the wasteful production of heat and how cost controls could be used to address that.

    Asked if that was a warning that should have been given to DETI, Dermot Nolan says: "I think yes, it ought to have been."

    The RHI Inquiry

    He thinks there was a sense that the Stormont officials had already been warned about some of the problems surrounding the scheme but "they were determined to go ahead come what may".

    Sir Patrick Coghlin agrees with Mr Nolan, reminding everyone that DETI officials said at the time that they wouldn't bother with cost controls and, as he puts it, "delivery [was] what's important".

  18. 'False economy to cut short on checking for risks'

    "Cutting short" on carrying out an examination of the RHI scheme's potential risks was a "false economy", says inquiry panellist Dr Keith MacLean.

    Small decisions that were taken in relation to the scheme's administration budget were "getting in the way" of achieving value for public money.

    Dermot Nolan says his organisation is "limited" in the work it can do but the budget it is provided with by whatever public body it's working for - in this case, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    "We make as strong a case as we possible can for such funding but in some ways that's not ultimately our decision so we have to use the funds we have," he says.

    Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin says it's "worrying" that Ofgem didn't tell DETI it needed more money to carry out its work on the RHI.

    And he points the finger at DETI too, saying departments "should know what their lack of production [of a sufficient budget] will result in".

  19. 'We got it wrong by not examining RHI risks'

    Ofgem did not carry out a risk assessment of the RHI scheme and its chief executive Dermot Nolan admits it's a failure on his organisation's behalf.

    It was to happen during the development of the scheme before it opened in November 2012 and its purpose was to pick up on anything that could pose a danger to the proper running of the initiative.

    Burning wood pellets

    Had it been done, key flaws with the scheme - including the absence of cost controls and the potential for it to be exploited - could've been spotted before any public money was spent.

    Asked if Ofgem got it wrong by not carrying out the risk assessment, Mr Nolan says: "I find it hard to accept anything else - yes, Ofgem did get it wrong."

    He tells the inquiry a risk assessment "clearly should have" resulted in those problems being dug up and discussed with the Stormont department that was responsible for the RHI.

  20. 'Inquiry barristers are the real fighting alley cats'

    Joseph Aiken (below) makes a lighthearted reference to yesterday's session, when inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin described two DUP and Sinn Féin minsters as "two alley cats... fighting".

    He says yesterday's real alley cats were inquiry barristers David Scoffield QC - "who made you sit through lunch" - and Donal Lunny who made the panel sit until 18:00, well beyond the usual quitting time.

    Joseph Aiken

    Mr Aiken makes dangerous assurances to the panel that they'll have a proper lunch break and they "certainly won't be sitting beyond the allotted time".

    "That is somewhat more of a friendly feline allusion than we have had," smiles Sir Patrick.

    Frankly, we've heard more than a few such assurances over the past year - a large pinch of salt required!