Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: PSNI not yet called in on fraud claims

Andrew McCormick and Simon Hamilton Image copyright AP
Image caption Economy permanent secretary Andrew McCormick and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton at the committee

Northern Ireland's economy minister has said the PSNI will be called to investigate any evidence of fraud in the renewable heating incentive (RHI).

The police have not yet become involved in the botched scheme, which could cost taxpayers up to £490m.

Simon Hamilton says his plan is to cut the cost of it to "essentially zero".

Members of the Economy Committee heard that while there were concerns about abuse, no case of deliberate intent to deceive had yet been identified.

A Stormont election looms over the scandal after Martin McGuinness stepped down as deputy first minister.

Image copyright TCHARA
Image caption The committee was told that some firms were earning "supernormal profits" from the scheme

On fraud, Mr Hamilton said his department was working through a PWC report which had identified potential cases of deliberate abuse of the scheme.

He said if fraud was identified it would be treated very seriously and the police would be called in.

The report has identified 14 potential installations where fraud is suspected.

Andrew McCormick, permanent secretary, said they did not yet have a case which showed "prima facie evidence of intent to deceive which is the threshold for fraud".

He said the investigations were ongoing.

The regulations move to the assembly this afternoon when MLAs will vote on their introduction.

Mr Hamilton claimed if the regulations were enacted it would cut the Stormont overspend on the scheme for 2016/17 from £30m to £2m.

The economy minister also said the department intended to tender for a company to carry out audits on all 2,128 installations.

Last week, the existing auditor OFGEM said of the 63 boilers it had examined, payments had been suspended to more than half.

Some boiler owners have indicated that they will go to court if attempts are made to change their contracts.

Under the proposed regulations, they would get a reduced subsidy after a certain amount of heat had been produced, with a cap after which no payments would be made.

That is compared to a generous uncapped payment under the current rules.

The regulations would only run for a year giving time for consultation about a permanent change.

Mr Hamilton said some firms in receipt of the subsidy were getting returns of up to 50%, when the intention of the scheme had been that it would be around 12%.

Mr McCormick, who was also at the committee, said that was the case in "quite a large proportion" of cases.

Sinn Féin members of the committee did not attend Monday's meeting.

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