Westminster expected to legislate for RHI cost controls

Curbs on RHI payments are due to expire on March 31
Curbs on RHI payments are due to expire on March 31 Curbs on RHI payments are due to expire on March 31

THE British government is drafting legislation to extend Stormont’s curbs on lavish payments to hundreds of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) claimants.

The measures are expected to be included alongside the budget legislation that Secretary of State Karen Bradley will seek to get passed at Westminster later this month.

Before its collapse in January last year, the assembly backed temporary Department for the Economy (DfE) regulations limiting payments under the botched scheme.

They were imposed for 12 months and reduced the annual cost of the controversial programme from £30m to £2m.

It is feared the RHI scheme could burn a £700m hole in the regional budget over the next 20 years.

With the temporary curbs due to expire on March 31 and no assembly in place, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) is working with DfE to extend the cost controls.

The department confirmed that fresh measures to limit payments need approval at Westminster and that officials are "actively working" to ensure they are extended for another 12 months.

An NIO spokesman said: "The secretary of state continues to consider carefully the steps that may be required to protect and preserve public finances, and public services, in Northern Ireland ahead of the forthcoming financial year.”

Mrs Bradley will make a statement next week about the Stormont budget.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna called for the RHI spending curbs to form part of a legislative package brought forward by the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

“That should happen immediately to allow other matters, like the RHI cost control legislation to be advanced to protect our budget,” she said.

A DfE spokesman said: “The Department for the Economy is actively working through the required legislative and regulatory processes to deliver an extension to the 2017 regulations for up to a further year, until 31 March 2019.

“In the absence of the assembly, this requires approval through parliament before the end of March 2018.”