RHI scandal: we intend to publish details in days, says Hamilton

A map, obtained from the BBC, showing the locations of RHI claims by postcode
A map, obtained from the BBC, showing the locations of RHI claims by postcode

The Department for the Economy has said that it intends to publish details of those receiving RHI subsidies one week from now.

However, although a statement from the minister makes clear that he wants to see firms named, it is not clear about whether this level of detail will actually be published.

The statement from economy minister Simon Hamilton MLA comes after they wrote to recipients last month to ask them if they agreed to being named.

The moves towards transparency on who is claiming had prompted a strong reaction from the UFU, and an anonymous group of RHI claimants who have sent a legal letter to the department.

The statement from Mr Hamilton this afternoon read in full: “I believe that it is absolutely imperative that there is complete openness and transparency around the RHI scheme and particular in respect of the naming of businesses benefitting from the scheme.

“It has always been my intention to publish this information. However, I have equally always been mindful that I can only do so in accordance with my legal obligations.

“Last month, my Department wrote to all of those participating in the non domestic RHI scheme indicating my desire to publish recipients details. “The Department is currently analysing the responses received and are following a clear process as required under section 10 of the 1998 Data Protection Act.

“The process will balance the competing interests of transparency and the right to privacy and protection in accordance with the law.

“I anticipate that the process will be concluded by the beginning of next week and it would be my intention to publish RHI recipient details on Wednesday 25 January.”

On Monday, the law firm TLT sent a letter to the Department of the Economy on behalf of claimants of the RHI scheme.

Among other things, the letter said TLT’s clients were complaining about “inaccurate” and “inflammatory” reporting in the press about the scandal, which has left Northern Ireland facing an unexpected bill of anything between £400m and £600m (depending on different estimates).

The letter warned the government against moves to change the contracts in the scheme in a bid to cut costs, saying this is “likely to be unlawful”.

The letter also said that the recipients of the scheme whom TLT represents “do not consent to their details being published”.

It also said: “There is nothing in scheme’s privacy policy which suggested to those applying for the scheme that such information would at any stage be placed in the public domain... the policy makes clear that the participants would have an expectation that their private and confidential information would not be made public.”

The News Letter asked TLT on Monday how many people it was representing, but it said that due to client confidentiality it could not answer this.

Asked where exactly the clients had derived their expectation of privacy from in relation to claiming under the scheme, TLT said: “We are currently in the early stages of advising a number of businesses and individuals relating to the RHI scheme. As this is an on-going issue and due to client confidentiality we can’t comment further.”

Earlier this month, the UFU said it was “advising members who availed of the scheme not to give permission for their names to be disclosed, unless audits have been carried out of their installation”.