Whistleblower saw fatal errors in heating scheme ‘in five minutes’

First Minister Arlene Foster has said she will not be stepping down over the Renewable Heating Scheme scandal
First Minister Arlene Foster has said she will not be stepping down over the Renewable Heating Scheme scandal

A whistleblower has told how she was able to spot “in five minutes” serious flaws in a botched government scheme which left taxpayers £400m out of pocket.

The Renewable Heating Incentive scheme has been branded by some commentators as the worst financial scandal in Stormont’s history.

One woman, who runs a heating company, has revealed how she was easily able to notice fatal errors in how the scheme was set up.

Speaking on BBC’s The Nolan Show yesterday, the whistleblower said it was clear there were “opportunities for fraud” in the scheme.

The energy initiative was meant to encourage businesses to switch to eco-friendly wood burning boilers.

But it paid out more in subsidies than the fuel cost, meaning users could abuse the system to earn more money by burning more fuel.

The woman first flagged up her concerns in 2013 to Arlene Foster, who was in charge of former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment at the time the scheme was rolled out.

Mrs Foster passed the warning on to senior civil servants, but she is now facing accusations that she did not do enough to pursue the concerns.

The woman said: “I went online and looked at the tariff on the DETI website. It took me five minutes to realise it was set up wrong.

“It was madness to assume the scheme wouldn’t be taken advantage of.”

After emailing her concerns to the department in 2013, the woman received a letter from Mrs Foster asking her to meet the team who designed the scheme.

She warned that the scheme could be open to abuse, but was told by the energy team: “We don’t think people would do that.”

She contacted the department again in 2014 and 2015, but the scheme was only stopped earlier this year after a huge spike in applications in late 2015 broke the budget.

Mrs Foster has dismissed allegations that she acted inappropriately when concerns were raised about the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Defending her position from China during a visit to promote Northern Ireland this week, Mrs Foster said she could not have acted differently.

She said: “There really isn’t anything more, with hindsight, that I could have done given the advice that was given to me at the time.”

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has called on her to consider her position, while other rivals have demanded she make a statement to the Assembly explaining why the whistleblower claims were not acted on.

The DUP leader said the concerns were taken “very seriously” and were referred to senior departmental officials.