RHI scandal: Aristocrats in scheme, but most are modest claimants

Viscount Brookeborough was one of the most first to install a 99kwth boiler in February 2013
Viscount Brookeborough was one of the most first to install a 99kwth boiler in February 2013

Several aristocrats and country estates are among those claiming under the RHI scheme, the list of claimants reveals – but most of the claims are far more modest than the typical claims under the scheme.

In some cases, such as Viscount Brookeborough, the claims were already known because the individuals had spoken publicly in support of the scheme.

But, as with most claimants on the list, most of the aristocrats were not known to have RHI boilers until the Department for the Economy published the full list (with the exception of 48 names of major claimants which have been withheld and anyone who has claimed less than £5,000) on Wednesday.

The list shows that Fermanagh landowner Viscount Brookeborough was one of the first to put in a 99kwth biomass boiler – the most lucrative and therefore most popular category – when he installed the heating system in early February 2013, just about three months into the scheme, at a point when it has been said that uptake was very slow.

That boiler has led to Viscount Brookeborough being paid £71,743.

Then, just eight days before cost controls were belatedly imposed on the out of control scheme in late 2015 – in the period when there was a huge spike in applications – he installed a second 99kwth boiler for which he has been paid £2,258.

Another Fermanagh aristocrat, Lord Anthony Hamilton, installed one 75kwth boiler in October 2014, long before the spike. He has claimed a modest £9,761 since that date.

The Shanes Castle Estates Company Ltd, whose directors include Lord O’Neill, Lady O’Neill and The Hon Shane Sebastian O’Neill, installed a 99kwth boiler on October 1 2015, during the spike. They have claimed £15, 544 since then.

The Rt Hon Earl Castle Stewart of Stewartstown installed a boiler on October 31 2015 – less than a month before cost controls were implemented – but has claimed modestly, being paid just £9,897 since then.

And Robert Lowry, claiming on behalf of Blessingbourne Country Estate in Fermanagh, also installed a (99kwth) boiler just 15 days before cost controls. He has claimed £17,324 since then.

There is no suggestion that any of the aristocrats or country estates have been abusing the RHI scheme in any way.

Meanwhile, the Renewable Heat Association, which represents many major RHI claimants, has claimed that the Department for the Economy had published figures which were inaccurate – some by up to 300% per year.

The group questioned why claimants were being named when “the names, grades and salaries of the civil servants who designed, managed and policed the scheme are not available on the Department for the Economy website”.