MPs expenses

Today, finally, the Commons publishes the expense claims of its members. A few of us wanted this done a long time ago.

The BBC this morning criticised the Commons for deleting the addresses and making it impossible to work out if someone had sold a property without paying capital gains tax. It is right that the public should know that the properties concerned are located to allow the MP to carry out the job, and that taxes have been paid where appropriate on properties where taxpayer money is received to pay some of the bills.

This Parliament I claimed for a rented flat in St George’s Square Pimlico, and more recently for a bedsit I purchased in Grosvenor Road Pimlico. Both are in walking distance of the Commons , saving time and money on travel on busy and long days. I did sell a property at the time of the 2005 election. I did not claim for it, and did pay capital gains tax on the sale.

At the beginning of the 2008-9 year I decided to cut my total expense claims by 10% in each of the following two years, as I believed we needed to cut public spending without harming front line services. When they get round to publishing the 2008-9 figures they should show I achieved this target for last year. I stated in May 2009 that I would be making no further claims on the housing cost Allowance, which should guarantee cutting more than 10% from my total expenses again this year.

Most people in the Commons now agree the old system was too generous and too laxly administered. The sooner Parliament can agree a system which is fair and offers value for money to taxpayers, the better.

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19 Comments

  1. James
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I browsed my MP’s expenses online early this morning but stopped after a few minutes as I could feel the anger welling up inside me. It is not only the fact that every month exactly £200.00 of food is claimed it is also the fact that the ‘Finest’ (Tesco’s elite brand) of each product, some exotic, is purchased. It is not only the fact that a second home is rented nowhere near London, it is also the fact that a large house (judging by the rent claimed) is rented, for a single person ( 25% council tax discount shown). This is (unacceptable conduct-ed) solely because the taxpayer is picking up the tab. You start to wonder why anyone would want to pay their taxes after reading through these expense claims.

  2. Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Please allow me to offer some very well meant advice:
    “Qui s’excuse, s’accuse”.
    For me, anyway, you more than justify your salary by offering us this excellent website (free of charge) which, again, for me, at any rate, keeps me reasonably sane.

    Now for a real money grabber: No less than the husband of the Minister for Europe:
    “”Taking advantage of an arrangement whereby Commission officials were able to have their salaries adjusted according to the cost of living of their own country, he (Kinnock) had been able to add another 20% to his annual pay. This concession had originally been intended for those who had to work in Brussels but, with young families or other problems, had to maintain dependents in their home countries, and thus might suffer unfairly by coming under the Belgian regime.
    For a man whose two grown up children had already left home, and had no need to maintain any dependents in the UK, the concession seemed unnecessary. Indeed, for someone already enjoying a free, chauffeur driven car, an entertainment allowance of £7,000 a year, a £24,000 a year housekeeping allowance, and whose MEP wife – on £55,000 a year and up to £115,000 in expenses – was in any case living with him in Brussels, this extra perk seemed, even to Commission officials, a teensy bit greedy.”
    Marta Andreasen, “Brussels laid Bare” p. 86.

  3. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    JR: “Most people in the Commons now agree the old system was too generous and too laxly administered.”

    If this is true, it is only because the public has been made aware of the way in which those same MPs had happily used the system and tried to prevent publication of the details. MPs wanted to hide their abuses of taxpayers’ money and but for the Daily Telegraph may well have succeeded. Today’s publication by the Commons was deliberately formatted to hide these abuses – so much for transparency. Many MPs clearly had, and still have, such an inflated opinion of themselves that they saw it as their entitlement to claim as much as they could and avoid tax wherever possible. Even now the worst offenders are allowed to remain MPs until the next election and consequently receive more salary and expenses. This will be supplemented by a generous “resettlement” payment, a winding up allowance and gold plated pension. In January 2008, the Senior Salaries Review Board recommended that resettlement payments be scrapped for MPs who retired or resigned. Needless to say this recommendation was formally rejected earlier this year. Is it any wonder that MPs are held in such low esteem?

  4. David Logan
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    The sooner we have a majority of MPs like you with respect for the public purse in this time of crisis the better. Roll on the election!

  5. alan jutson
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Good to hear it do what I do, and not as I say.

    I suppose my only comment is:

    We already have a system which is approved by the Tax Authorities which Millions of us have to abide by, like it or not.

    No its not perfect, far from it, we could all find reasons why it is not suitable for a particular case, but we HAVE TO WORK WITH IT, otherwise we get penalised or investigated.

    If MP’s had to abide by the same system, then perhaps they would understand more what the rest of us have to put up with, and perhaps make things a little more sensible.

    I simply do not believe that MP’s should be a special case.

  6. jean baker
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Were those accountable to taxpayers – the Fees Office – ‘too generous’ or did they break rules ?

    ‘Expensegate’ appeared to be no more than a pre-determined media exercise to discredit certain MP’s, yet all alleged ‘improper’ claims were sanctioned by Brown’s staff !

    People I speak to are far more concerned with the cost of MEP’s expenses for which, apparently, no receipts are required.

  7. Alan Wheatley
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I think the principle is that MPs should be treated the same as everyone else. MPs should be paid a salary for doing the job and reimbursed for reasonable cost incurred in carrying out that job.

    It seems that the second homes allowance is the one that has caused most controversy. The starting point should be that MP’s normal place of work is their constituency office. No one can claim the expense of travelling from home to their normal place of work. When working away from their normal place of work the reasonable costs of travel and subsistence are claimed as expenses, and this could include overnight accommodation. Expenses can be claimed against bills, or a “standard” amount claimed for a “standard” cost (e.g. evening meal) without a bill. This is well established practice in industry.

    Where working away from home extends over a significant period a cost of living allowance is paid to cover accommodation and consequential costs. The normal place of work shifts to the on-site location. MPs do not fall exactly into this category as they in effect work in two “normal” places, rather than one or the other. But I do not see why MPs should not simply be paid the normal on-site cost of living allowance where long-term overnight accommodation in the vicinity of Westminster is necessary. Note this is paid as an allowance and NOT as expenses.

    John is to be credited with minimising his cost to taxpayers. However, I do not see the point of taking a penny pinching attitude to MPs. There is no point in a system of minute scrutiny of every single claim, as the cost incur will be far greater than any saving that might be made. Any in any event this is a subject that will eventually become boring.

    What I think is unacceptable is for MPs to arrange for themselves special benefits not available to others, and that includes pensions.

    • Mark
      Posted June 19, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      I disagree with your basis: MP’s normal place of work is supposed to be Parliament, and many also have government roles that require them to be working in London. Moreover, every MP has in principle the same requirement to work in London. It is their constituency presence that has a variable cost. Therefore, all MPs should be paid the same as those who are not allowed to claim ACA currently (i.e. including the London allowance that those MPs receive).

      Payment for a constituency home should be confined to those outside a commute from the HoC, defined say as a journey time exceeding 1.5 hours from the principal railway station serving their constituency as measured by the TfL website (and therefore including transit from London terminus to HoC), provided there is a service to get home leaving the HoC at 10:30 p.m. It should be an allowance based on the average house price in the constituency, and fixed for a parliament.

      Those who have government duties and shadow ministers should be paid for an additional constituency staff member to handle constituency matters, reflecting the reality that they will have less time to hold surgeries themselves.

      • Alan Wheatley
        Posted June 19, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

        Well that certainly puts a different take on things. What we need now is the MP perspective – how do they see it.

  8. Mick Anderson
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    If all MPs had followed your lead, perhaps this furore could have been avoided.

    However, now the genie is out of the bottle, many of the public (including me) now want the whole second homes system abolished. My own MP has created the impression for years that he lives locally, but we now know that (although he was brought up locally); his home in his home-counties commuter-belt Constituency is just a rarely-occupied drain on the taxpayer. This is at best disingenuous and will lose him many, many votes at any election.

    We are also offended by the way MPs have voted themselves exemption from all the second home costs (Council Tax, fuel bills, maintenance bills, &ct) that everyone else has to pay as part of normal life. There is disgust at the way that MPs expect us to pay for food that we all need to live.

    When you consider how short the working week is for many MPs, and how long the holidays are, the taxpayer would have far better value for money paying a simple overnight allowance for a stay in a hotel. It would remove the temptation that so many less enlightened MPs have succumbed to in manipulating the existing allowances to significant (and often dishonest) advantage.

    Alternatively, provide an accommodation block for those MPs forced to stay in town for a few nights a week.

    If an MP wants to live in London, that’s his or her choice. But the electorate should know, and not be expected to fund the charade of a Constituency address.

    The pendulum will effectively now swing the other way. Excess will now need to be replaced by overt and obvious austerity, even if that is less generous than could be fairly applied. It’s payback for the obscenity that has been applied for so long.

  9. Nick
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    In part, it is that it was lax.

    However, to say that its lax misses the point. There has been outright fraud.

    You, like the other MPs signed your expenses to say they were wholly and necessary for the perfomance of your duties as an MP.

    (Goes on to give examples of “fraud” which are not thought to be fraud by others – argues that fraud should be investigated by the police)

  10. Posted June 18, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    The danger is that there does not seem to be a perceived difference between MPs who have quite legitimately claimed expenses necessarily incurred in doing their job properly and those who have manipulated the system for personal gain or the evasion of tax. However posting copies of claims with large parts of the forms blacked out will do nothing to reassure the public in this respect and in many cases might even create a false impression that there is something to hide.

    This is not only unfair on the majority of MPs on all sides of the House who have not abused the system – It runs the risk of taking the country’s eye off the ball that really matters; which is the dire condition to which our economy has been driven to and the importance of getting a new and more competent government to address this as soon as possible.

  11. Adrian Peirson
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Sir Fred Goodwin is being demonised because of recent events, people think it outrageous that he has been given what appears a huge sum of money whilst being seen as responsible for the financial collapse.
    This financial collapse was not Fred Goodwins Fault, the city, in my view was deliberately turned into little more than a Casino by the Govt precisely so as to create the very problerm which would demand a world Bank, in order to ensure such a catastrophe never occured again.

    Had Sir Fred said No, he would have been replaced with someone else and the same result would have been encouraged to occur.

    Similarly with the MP’s expenses, I cannot help but feel the Telegraph is involved in destroying the Sovereignty of Parliament as I understand as a result of the Expenses scandal, an OUTSIDE body will now dictate to Parliament.

    Naturally an ourtaged Public who are never taught at school about how our Sovereignty and Constitution are held together will agree to this.

    This means that Parliament is no longer Sovereign.

    There does appear to be a pattern evolving here.

    • Bazman
      Posted June 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      A pattern often evolves when I eat jam sponge and custard. The telegraph being involved in destroying parliament is just as stupid.
      You are right in the fact Fred would have existed whatever his name might have been. The state allowed this to happen. What we are dealing with banks MP’s and companies is a culture of entitlement and “What can we get away with and how long can we get away with it?” Anyone with any principles soon gets it kicked out of them or sacked. The conspiracy lies in the fact that they are all in it together with MP’s passing laws that they as a body do not have to live with supported by a rich elite that many MP’s and middle class fantasists, aspire to be, not living or believing they live in in normal society. Adam Collyer below must be on more than 90 grand a year. Society is not interested that he cannot afford more than two holidays a year and has cut back by driving a BMW instead of a Bentley that he was planning to buy. ie the bleating upper middle classes.
      In a nutshell MP’s are perceived to have taken the P. If any of them do not get this then they have forfeited their job as they are not politically aware enough to carry out their business. They are in short professional bankers.

  12. Adam Collyer
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Forgive me for being slightly off topic, but obviously MPs’ expenses are ultimately paid for by taxes.

    My marginal tax rate is 90% (comprising 40% income tax, 1% national insurance and 39% withdrawal of tax credits).

    My boss was a little taken aback when he offered a salary increase this year and I shrugged my shoulders and told him the government would take most of it. But that was true.

    Do MPs really realise just how redistributive/ Socialist Gordon Brown’s tax credit system is?

  13. Posted June 18, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Having the properties within walking distance was a good idea.

    Will look out for the 10% reduction.

  14. sm
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Interesting how the official version differs from the leaked version under the FOI law?

    The conclusion i draw from the official report concurs with my general opinion of HMG government presentation and spin so as to obfuscate or mislead.

    The major worry for me , who to trust.

    For example:
    In my opinion , MP expenses and tax avoidance are quite closely related and the link between them and the future development of a general anti avoidance rule, anti abuse rule seems clear. This can be interpreted by the courts, if principal clear guidance is given to the courts.

    In my opinion ,that is not to say that vast sums extracted by tax have not been immorally wasted e.g. PFI schemes etc

    All comes down to lack of transparency and lack of good people making honest policy based on complete and proper disclosure.

    What other linkages are unseen or hidden from the public?

  15. Rachel
    Posted June 27, 2009 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    I live in Cumbria and I find it really striking how different this issue looks from up here to down in Wokingham.

    If I want my MP to represent me properly he needs to spend decent time here listening to us AND a decent time in London representing us in Parliament. For that he needs 2 homes. Far from being unreasonable I think it’s absolutely necessary. It takes 7 hours to get to the Houses of Parliament from here (door-to-door). A hotel room simply couldn’t cut it. And besides, it also means his researcher has somewhere to stay when he needs to be in London (therefore saving hotel bills).

    If an MP could win an award for having the strongest ties to his constituency it would surely go to our MP who can trace his roots back to at least his great grandparents – if not further. The fact that his family live in the constituency is surely a GOOD thing. It means that he is better able to represent us because he is – in a very real sense – “one of us” in that he is directly affected by local issues in the same way the rest of us are.

    Therefore I think it’s right that his main home is in his constituency and he claims for a home in London. I can’t quite see why MP have to buy rather than rent beyond the fact that sometimes interest-only mortgage payments are cheaper than rental payments. I certainly don’t think MPs should be allowed to pocket the proceeds of increased house prices, but unless we had some sort of expenses/allowances system in place, I’m quite sure that our MP wouldn’t be the only MP who couldn’t afford to do his job.

    The only other alternative is a substantial salary increase, but that would unfairly benefit MPs who don’t need second homes.

  16. Posted July 2, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    I think people who argue that if MPs got a fair wage they wouldn’t need to subside their income with expenses are missing the point.

    How many people in the UK earn over £50k? Only 10%. MPs should be grateful for getting the £60k without the need for more expenses.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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