RHI man used a year’s heat in three months – but payments weren’t stopped

Most RHI wood pellet boilers have never been inspected by anyone
Most RHI wood pellet boilers have never been inspected by anyone

RHI inspectors found that one individual had used more heat in three months than they had said they would use in an entire year – but their payments were not stopped.

Details of the situation have come to light in documents released under the Freedom of Information Act by Ofgem, the GB energy regulator which was responsible for inspecting RHI boilers on behalf of Stormont.

The report shows that even among the handful of inspections in the early years of the scheme there were warnings which were not heeded.

In the first two years of the green energy scheme there were just 17 inspections. Until the recent emergence of the scandal, just 57 of the 2,128 installations had been inspected by Ofgem.

Since the scandal emerged, it has been agreed that every site will be inspected and that process is due to begin soon.

That means that in the overwhelming number of cases applicants simply submitted paperwork and waited for the money to arrive in their bank accounts.

A November 2014 Ofgem audit report reveals that an individual had suggested on his RHI application form that he would use the boiler for an average of 41 hours each week.

The auditor said that after a discussion with the individual he understood that the installation was operating for “at least 168 hours per week”.

However, there only are 168 hours in a week.

Despite the fact that several other problems were identified by auditors and their overall assessment indicated a “weak” assurance rating, his payments were not halted.

Rather, they said that there were “moderate issues with eligibility which can be rectified within a reasonable timescale”.

The report included the note: “The boiler is in use constantly – 168 hours per week, however it is shut off for one week in every seven whilst the [redacted] is cleaned.”

The report is one of three which Ofgem has released in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Responding to the request, Ofgem said that it could not provide any audit reports for the year 2015-2016 – the year in which the ‘spike’ in applications occurred.

Ofgem said that the Department for the Economy “holds ownership of these reports and has only shared this information with Ofgem on a confidential basis”.

A public inquiry into the RHI scheme, to be chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, is due to get under way in coming weeks.

The inquiry, which will hold its hearing’s in the Senate Chamber at Parliament Buildings, does not have a time limit or a budget. Some sources indicate that it is likely to take at least a year to finalise its work.

Sir Patrick has said that the inquiry will be “inquisitorial” rather than “an adversarial trial” and stressed that the inquiry has “no power to determine any person’s criminal or civil liability”.