Timeline: Renewable Heat Incentive scandal

  • Published

The Renewable heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was an energy initiative set up to encourage businesses in Northern Ireland to switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

But major flaws in its set-up and implementation meant the scheme risked going vastly over budget, with fears that the overspend could reach as much as £700m over 20 years.

The scheme was shut in 2016 and deep cuts in subsidies introduced in 2017 and 2019 brought it within budget.

A top civil servant has since told MPs that the overspend figure had actually been just over £33m before the measures to curb spending were introduced.

BBC News NI outlines the history of the scheme and how it led to the collapse of devolution in Northern Ireland.

November 2012

Image source, TCHARA
Image caption,
Tariffs for the scheme were set by the Department for the Environment
  • The RHI is launched in Northern Ireland to help businesses, public sector, and other non-domestic organisations in Northern Ireland meet the cost of installing renewable heat technologies - therefore reducing the UK's carbon emissions.
  • Tariffs are set by Stormont's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).
  • Eligible applicants are entitled to help for 20 years after accreditation.


  • A whistleblower contacts DETI Minister Arlene Foster alleging abuse of the scheme.
  • A follow-up email is sent on 12 May 2014.

Late 2014

  • The initiative is extended to the domestic sector.

January 2015

  • DETI is due to seek re-approval of the scheme from the Department of Finance but this is overlooked due to a "combination of staff changes and an administrative oversight".
  • Applications for the initiative increase.

February 2016

  • Whistleblowers allege RHI has overspent by millions.
  • Industry Minister Jonathan Bell announces his intention to close the scheme to new applications.
  • An investigation into the scheme gets underway.

July 2016

  • The Audit Office says "serious systemic failings" would hit the Northern Ireland budget to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.
  • There was no cap on the subsidy payments: the more heat you generated, the greater the subsidy you were paid.
  • Economy Minister Simon Hamilton (DUP) says the ongoing costs of the scheme to taxpayers are "incredible".

October 2016

  • Senior members of Ofgem E-Serve appear before the assembly's Public Accounts Committee.
  • They reveal there were no minutes taken of formal meetings between themselves and departmental officials between August 2014 and November the following year.

8 December 2016

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Arlene Foster was the minister in charge of the Department at the time RHI was set up
  • A whistleblower tells the BBC's Nolan Show that "five minutes" of research was needed to discover serious flaws in the RHI.
  • She says she contacted Arlene Foster in 2013 to warn the then enterprise minister about the issue.
  • SDLP leader Colum Eastwood calls on Mrs Foster to appear before the Public Accounts Committee.

12 December 2016

  • Mrs Foster says she has "nothing to hide" in relation to the RHI.
  • She announces that the executive will write to claimants to seek permission for their names to be made public in a bid to restore public confidence.
  • Political opponents accuse Mrs Foster of shirking responsibility on the issue.

14 December 2016

15 December 2016

Media caption,

Jonathan Bell claims that senior DUP aides tried to remove Arlene Foster's name from documents

  • In an exclusive interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan, former DUP minister Jonathan Bell says advisers to Arlene Foster attempted to remove her name from documents linked to RHI.
  • Mr Bell, who succeeded Mrs Foster as the minister of the department that set up the scheme, claims two top DUP advisers "were not allowing this scheme to be closed" at the point when costs were spiralling out of control in autumn 2015.
  • Mrs Foster responds that if papers were altered "it wasn't on my say-so".
  • The two advisers named by Mr Bell, Timothy Johnston and Dr Andrew Crawford, said they never sought to keep the RHI scheme open against the wishes of the minister, adding that their roles were simply "to offer advice" and not to "influence any decision".

21 December 2016

  • The executive is reported to be considering complete closure of the RHI scheme. Buying out the recipients would incur a cost, but would reduce the final bill.

4 January 2017

  • Arlene Foster again says she will not stand down over the RHI scandal, adding that some calls for her to do so are "misogynistic".
  • Biomass boiler owners say they have formed a group to deal directly with government officials proposing changes to the scheme.
  • Economy Minister Simon Hamilton is reported to be seeking Sinn Féin's approval for emergency legislation, which he says could reduce the projected £490m overspend to "zero".
  • The DUP says the plan could be brought to the assembly next week if agreed by the executive.
  • Sinn Féin Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir says he is "bemused " by the DUP trailing the proposal in the media before speaking to him.

5 January 2017

  • Former DUP MLA David McIlveen criticises Mrs Foster for what he describes as the RHI "omnishambles". He says she has "seriously misjudged" public anger.
  • Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams says the political institutions have reached "a defining point" over the first minister's refusal to step aside.

9 January 2017

  • Martin McGuinness resigns as deputy first minister in protest at the DUP's handling of the RHI scandal.
  • Outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster denounces Sinn Féin's actions as "political, not principled".

10 January 2017

11 January 2017

  • Sinn Féin says it will not enter negotiations ahead of new assembly elections.
  • Prime Minister Theresa May says the government is putting in "every effort" to ensure a solution is reached, adding that Northern Ireland's voice would continue to be heard in Brexit negotiations.

13 January 2017

16 January 2017

19 January 2017

  • A former adviser to Arlene Foster resigns after claims he exerted influence over the flawed energy scheme.
Image caption,
Andrew Crawford denies the claims against him

21 January 2017

23 January 2017

  • MLAs pass regulations to cut the cost of the RHI scheme by lowering the tariff paid to claimants. The regulations are expected to save £30m in the 2017/18 budget - and will apply for 12 months.

24 January 2017

  • A judge issues an interim injunction preventing the publication of hundreds of names of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) claimants.
  • Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir announces a public inquiry into the RHI scandal, to be chaired by retired appeal court judge Sir Patrick Coghlin.

1 March 2017

16 March 2017

6 April 2017

  • A group that represents hundreds of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) boiler owners says some of its members are folding because of cuts in payments. New tariff rates that have a substantially reduced subsidy took affect on 1 April and the Renewable Heath Association (RHANI) said several firms were shutting down.
Image source, Pacemaker

27 April 2017

8 May 2017

24 May 2017

30 June 2017

16 August 2017

8 September 2017

  • A major pig farming business in Cloughmills in County Antrim says it is taking the Department for the Economy to court over plans for a power plant linked to the RHI scheme.

18 September 2017

October 2017

7 November 2017

  • The public inquiry into the RHI scheme, chaired by Sir Patrick Coghlin, begins its oral evidence hearings at Stormont's Parliament Buildings.