Following a whistleblower's report that fraud was being carried out within a government renewable heating scheme, auditors are now reviewing the evidence.
The whistleblower said that some business applicants sought to fraudulently benefit from uncapped subsidies. The plan existed to offer grants to businesses to invest in wood boilers to heat buildings and to move away from fossil fuels in the process. The claim is that some businesses applied for the grants to heat empty buildings in a way that was essentially fraudulent and, at the least, designed to mislead. At the same time, there were no caps imposed on the subsidies available, and the scheme itself wasn't properly monitored or controlled.
The scheme has already been described as overly generous by auditors and open to the possibility of fraud, and as a result of the abuses, taxpayers will now be faced with a bill of £150 million or more which was run up over five years. Without caps on the subsidies, the scheme simply paid out more money when more heat was generated, with some businesses heating empty buildings simply to obtain grant money.
The Department of the Economy has confirmed that it does not intend to publish results of the internal review for public access. Simon Hamilton, the Minister of the Economy for Northern Ireland, has also commissioned a second audit.
The primary review was instigated by Ofgem, the regulator, which had helped with the administration of the Northern Ireland scheme. The full report is expected in the autumn. Over 2,000 scheme applications are being reviewed, and abuses could lead to prosecution. Businesses that took part in the scheme will also be obliged to prove that they installed biomass wood boilers as a replacement for existing fossil-fuel heat systems.