Names of companies claiming under RHI could be published by the end of March

The Department for the Economy has said that the names of companies claiming under the RHI scheme could be published by the end of March

THE names of claimants under the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme could be released by the end of this month, the Department for the Economy has said.

A judge ruled last week that the identities of nearly 2,000 companies benefitting from the botched green energy scheme could be released by outgoing economy minister Simon Hamilton.

However, Mr Justice Deeny prohibited the disclosure of the names of individuals receiving money until any objections they have to being identified are properly considered.

Mr Hamilton had previously promised to release the names of claimants but did not do so before leaving office last week.

Following the Assembly election, with no minister in place, the decision on publication falls to the department's permanent secretary.

A spokeswoman for the department said yesterday: "In line with the decision taken by Minister Hamilton before he left office, the department plans to publish the names of all limited companies and limited liability partnerships that have received support payments under the scheme.

"The department will publish this information as soon as is practical, anticipated later this month."

The department also said it has begun writing to all individuals "inviting them to inform the department of any reason why their information should not be published."

The spokeswoman said: "The judgment was explicit in that the department can only release company names and not the names of individuals until the department has complied with the conditions set out under the Data Protection Act.

"The department has now begun this process with the aim of releasing the names of the individuals who are recipients under the scheme. The department will publish this information as soon as is practical."

It comes as a High Court case to determine whether payments under the scheme continue for up to 20 years has been adjourned for a four-day hearing in June.

A group of more than 500 boiler owners from the Renewable Heat Association (RHA) were set to begin their legal challenge to the former minister's plan to cut tariffs paid to those on the botched scheme later this month.

Lawyers for the RHA are set to claim this was an illegal step against boiler owners with 20 year contracts, with part of their case that the 2017 regulations are rendered unlawful because they were not discussed and agreed on by the Executive.

A public inquiry chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin is set to begin examining the development and roll-out of the flawed initiative, which is expected to cost the Stormont Executive £490 million over 20 years and led to last week's snap Assembly elections.

In court yesterday, Mr Justice Deeny expressed apprehension at making a decision on any facts that are also to be examined by the public inquiry.

But Gerald Simpson QC, for the RHA, stressed that much of the legal challenge will focus on the period before the original 2012 regulations came into force.

Meanwhile, the department said last night it was unable to comment on reports that inspections of RHI sites are to begin in May.

It was reported that a tender for the programme is to be advertised shortly, with the inspections estimated to cost £2 million and a final report available to the department by December.

According to data supplied to companies bidding for the contract, there are 1,200 sites to be inspected, which will be done through unannounced visits.

The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee previously heard that an independent audit carried out found issues at half of 300 sites inspected, with 14 referred for suspected fraud.

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