RHI scandal: Department sent out helpline number that didn’t work

The department said that it had corrected the error within an hour
The department said that it had corrected the error within an hour

Another example of incompetence at Simon Hamilton’s department can be revealed after the News Letter established that a helpline number given to RHI claimants who are about to be named does not work.

The number was prominently included in departmental correspondence emailed to non-domestic RHI users on Monday.

The letter informed them that they would be publicly named on Wednesday – something which has still not happened – and said: “If you have any queries on the process used to reach this decision please contact the Department Tel. 0300 300 7874 (local rate number).”

However, a claimant who contacted the News Letter said he was surprised to find that the number did not work.

The News Letter phoned the number and, as he said, the line went dead before with the message: “Sorry, the number you have called is not available.”

When asked about the issue, the department confirmed that the number had been incorrect but said that it had contacted the individuals within an hour to give them the correct number (0300 200 7874).

The man who contacted the News Letter said that he had subsequently phoned the department directly on its general phone number in an attempt to speak to the relevant officials.

He said: “I decided to ring the department on the Belfast number myself this afternoon. I was ‘promised’ that someone from the non-domestic team would ring back. I’m still waiting.”

The individual said that his primary use for one 99Kwh boiler was agricultural and was not “excessively” using the apparatus. He said: “We have no fear when we get our inspection”, but added: “What worries us is the way in which the scheme was set up initially and the knee-jerk reaction by the politicians and government in light of the revelations.

“Also, how is it the RHI contract that we signed is not worth the paper it was written on?”

The claimant said he felt that although the Renewable Heat Association had been able to get an interim injunction preventing the release of around 400 names “the rest of us have been hung out to dry”.

Another RHI claimant who contacted the News Letter but asked not to be named expressed distress at the publication of the names, saying that they had only ever used the scheme as intended and feared that they would now be viewed by many members of the public as an abuser of the scheme.

The department said: “In order to ensure that the beneficiaries of the non-domestic RHI Scheme were kept up to date in relation to the release of information around the scheme, an information line number was provided in an email sent on Monday.

“Unfortunately that email referred to an incorrect number, which was picked up within the hour and therefore quickly corrected via a follow-up email to all recipients alerting them to the correct number (0300 200 7874) and apologising for any inconvenience caused.

“This number has been operational since Monday morning and has received around 60 calls. We are not aware of any other case where someone had difficulty getting through. There are no problems getting through to the information line today.”

However, last night the man who contacted the News Letter said that he had checked his email inbox and he had received no second email.

The problem is the latest in a long line of gaffes involving the RHI scheme, the most recent of which involved the department continuing to pay to advertise the scheme on Google almost a year after it had been closed to new applicants until the News Letter highlighted the issue.