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Clarity urgently needed from Stormont Castle on RHI debacle

  • Has First Minister appointed anyone to carry out inspections of RHI installations?
  • Every passing week costs more public money
  • Executive should be checking annual declarations with OFGEM

Steve Aiken OBE MLA, the Ulster Unionist Party`s Economy spokesperson, said:

“Over two weeks ago First Minister Foster announced that every beneficiary of the botched RHI scheme would be subject to inspection to check for abuse of public money. Given that with every passing week, more money flows out of the public coffers, it is legitimate to ask if that process has started yet. So far we heard plenty of bluster but no meat on the bones. As a matter of urgency the First Minister and her Executive colleagues should urgently clarify where they are with the whole process. Have Mrs Foster or the Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton, even appointed anyone to do it? Have they presented a business case to the Finance Minister? The public shouldn`t have to wait for another few weeks before some clarity emerges from Stormont Castle.

“During OFGEM`s evidence to Stormont`s Public Accounts Committee on 26 October 2016, OFGEM officials made clear that recipients of the RHI scheme had clear obligations and conditions which meant they must complete an annual declaration confirming their compliance with the scheme. These declarations are submitted online to OFGEM. This would be a relatively easy place for the Executive to start. If an applicant has either failed to make a return or submitted a false return or commitment in their annual declaration, then surely they would be in breach of any agreement? The First Minister and her Executive colleagues should be in urgent discussions with OFGEM in relation to the annual declarations and other matters. If not, then why not?”

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Public Accounts Committee, meeting on Wednesday, 26 October 2016

http://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/officialreport/minutesofevidencereport.aspx?AgendaId=19488&eveID=10925

The Chairperson (Mr Swann): I just want to go back over one point. With the application form we have in front of us, is there a follow-on contract after that is done, or is it solely the application form that the agreement is based on?

Dr Ward: Subsequent to the application form, which includes a number of declarations, and assuming an applicant is approved and accredited on to the scheme, they will receive a formal notification of accreditation that sets out a number of conditions and reminds them of their ongoing obligations in line with the scheme, including that they must submit an annual declaration that confirms that they are continuing to comply with their ongoing obligations.

The Chairperson (Mr Swann): Who does the annual declaration go to?

Dr Ward: The annual declaration is submitted by the participant online to the Ofgem systems.

The Chairperson (Mr Swann): To you?

Dr Ward: Yes.

The Chairperson (Mr Swann): Does that ask any specific questions, or is it just a simple —

Dr Ward: It is specifying that the participant is aware that they are complying with the relevant ongoing obligations. It lists the specific regulations the participant needs to comply with and makes some particular clarifications. For example, one of our earlier findings from the audit programme was that some participants were not keeping good fuel records, so we have specifically amended the annual declaration to focus participants' minds on complying. I will say again that the legal position we have adopted with that is that we are expecting participants to declare that annually. Ultimately, it is a participant's responsibility to understand the regulations and comply with them, and if they have not, we have duties to take some actions.

The Chairperson (Mr Swann): I will ask you for a copy of that as well, Edmund, because we have not had sight of the annual declaration, nor did the Department inform us of it prior to today. I thank you for that bit. I will come back to this point. There is an annual declaration, but is there a legally binding contract rather than a declaration of commitment to obligation?

Dr Ward: The final stage of submitting an application includes declarations that the application has been submitted to the best of the applicant's knowledge and belief.

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