Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) timeline of key events
- November 2012
A bid to reduce Northern Ireland’s carbon emissions sees the introduction of the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI). It is described as a “financial incentive scheme” to increase the uptake of renewable heat technologies, and provides a subsidy for non-domestic properties such as churches, schools and businesses that create renewable heat through methods such as biomass burning.
The Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI), headed by minister Arlene Foster, sets the tariff for the scheme.
- August 2013
Minister Foster is contacted by a whistleblower, who outlines concerns regarding the RHI scheme, before being referred by the minister to her advisers in the department.
However, the DUP later present an email they say was from the whistleblower and shows that Ms Foster would not have identified any concerns from the initial correspondence.
- May 2014
A second email from the whistleblower is sent to Ms Foster, which further outlines the problems with RHI and how it was being financially abused. The whistleblower will later say how her concerns were “swept under the carpet”.
- December 2014
RHI is made available to domestic customers, who can receive a grant to assist in upfront costs to install renewable heating technology, and an annual payment for seven years to cover additional costs.
“It is vital that the renewable heat sector in Northern Ireland continues to develop and expand,” Minister Foster says during a consultation before the expansion to domestic properties.
- April 2015
DETI is due to seek reapproval of RHI from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), but this is not done due to “administrative oversight” and changes in staff. An NI Audit office report later states DETI only realised the oversight in May. Had the alleged oversight not occurred, and DFP approval sought when it was supposed to have been, then RHI could have been reviewed and cost control measures implemented, the report states, adding: “This potential opportunity was missed”.
The number of RHI applications is seen to have “increased significantly” in the meantime.
- September 2015
A “very large spike in demand” for RHI applications occurs following the announcement of new tightened RHI rules, and their implementation weeks later. In this period, almost as many applications are received as had been submitted in the entire 34 months that the RHI scheme had been running.
The applications made in this window have an expected cost of £24 million each year – for the next 20 years.
- January 2016
A second whistleblower contacts Arlene Foster – now First Minister – identifying how a farm shed and factories with large boilers were running heat 24 hours a day just to make money through the flawed subsidy system.
- February 2016
Enterprise minister Jonathan Bell announces the end of both domestic and non-domestic RHI schemes in a bid to prevent further overspending.
Mr Bell makes the announcement “with great reluctance”, and states that money to meet RHI commitments for existing installations will have to be sourced from the overall NI Executive budget for the next five years.
- July 2016
Following an investigation, the NI Audit Office publishes its report on RHI, concluding there was “serious systematic weaknesses from the start” and highlighting how spending was “potentially vulnerable to abuse”.
- October 2016
In an interview with the Irish News, Arlene Foster dismissed criticism of her oversight of RHI, saying she couldn't be over "every jot and tittle" in her department.
Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee hears from witnesses, including a senior civil servant from the Department of Finance, David Sterling, who said he “can’t satisfactorily explain” why a review into RHI did not take place during his time as permanent secretary and accounting officer.
“With hindsight, I may have got my priorities wrong,” he told MLAs.
- December 2016
Arlene Foster stands her ground and refuses to quit as claims are made in a BBC Spotlight report about her actions when first informed of the potential RHI overspend crisis. New allegations follow about people who might have benefitted from RHI, including figures close to the DUP.
The Stormont opposition parties close in on the First Minister, with the SDLP stating a no-confidence motion will be tabled.
As DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds weighs in to defend his colleague by criticising a “scurrilous” attempt to blame her, the party also releases what it claims is the initial email sent to Ms Foster, which it said would not have indicated the scale of the problem to the then-DETI minister.
Jonathan Bell breaks ranks to speak to the BBC in a tearful interview in which he claims special advisers from the DUP attempted to block the scheme being altered to prevent its financial exploitation.