RHI scandal: Naming recipients ‘could be in breach of the law’

A handful of wood pellets, the main fuel used in the RHI scheme
A handful of wood pellets, the main fuel used in the RHI scheme

A legal firm has said that naming the full list of those who have received government subsidies under the RHI scheme could be in breach of the law.

Clare Bates, a lawyer for the firm Carson McDowell, said that the proposal to name those being paid under the botched scheme could contravene the Data Protection Act.

There have been calls to reveal the list of beneficiaries of the botched scheme, which was supposed to be an environmentally- friendly way of switching many of the Province’s businesses over from fossil fuel fired heating systems to burning renewable resources such as wood pellets.

However, it was set up in 2012 in such a way that people would be paid a higher subsidy to produce heat than the fuel was worth, essentially giving them an incentive to waste fuel – and the more fuel wasted, the more they would earn.

In a statement via a PR firm, Carson McDowell said naming names of those receiving subsidies could have “major implications for data protection”.

It has been reported that businesses which are receipt of RHI money could be named by early January.

Ms Bates said: “The Data Protection Act (DPA) applies to living individuals which in theory should mean that companies or groups shouldn’t benefit from the protections it puts in place.

“However, the position isn’t so clear cut. Personal data is defined by the act in terms of whether a living individual can be identified from the data.

“So if the grant was paid, for example, to a limited company with two shareholders they could be easily identified from the data available...

“If the names of the recipients were published and this information could be used to learn something about an identifiable individual, then it would also be considered personal data and should be protected under the terms of DPA.

“The public interest cannot be considered a carte blanche when it comes to accessing information held by public authorities.”