The Ukip leader Nigel Farage claims to have spent £17,000 in European Parliamentary allowances last year on office expenses – not including staff costs, rent, telephone charges, office equipment or stationary.
Mr Farage said that he was the victim of a smear campaign and categorically denied that he had been misusing his MEP's allowances.
Documents filed by Ukip show last year that Mr Farage reportedly spent £17,000 running his 620 square foot constituency office in West Sussex despite an arrangement that allowed him to use the premises rent-free.
According to Ukip’s figures, Mr Farage has spent almost £70,000 on office costs since July 2009 – none of which included rent, phones, or equipment charges.
Asked about the high level of expenditure, Mr Farage said much of his allowance was spent on electricity.
“Do you know, the electricity bill is more than £3,000 a year,” he told Sky News.
“We have burglar alarms, we have insurance, we have a massive postbag and a mail bill that is growing by the week.”
Asked why his electricity costs were approximately three times an average household, the Ukip leader replied: “Running machines; running banks of computers; running photocopiers; doing things that use a lot more electricity than many household chores.”
Under European Parliament rules, MEPs are paid a General Expenditure Allowance of £3,800 a month to meet costs resulting from “activities in their capacity as Members which are not covered by other allowances”.
The allowance is not allowed to be used to cover personal expenses or to subsidise party political activity. MEPs are required to publish rough details of expenditure for public scrutiny.
Details of Mr Farage’s expenditure show that in 2013 he spent £6,750 on communications, £1,600 on stationery, periodicals and subscriptions, £1,000 on office equipment and £17,500 on “representation, meetings and briefings”.
He also claimed £17,000 on other “office management and running costs”. In total he claimed over £45,000 in such General Expenditure Allowances.
A former Ukip official is believed to have filed a formal complaint about Mr Farage to the EU anti-fraud office (Olaf). In Britain the Electoral Commission is also investigating as the donation of office space appears not to have been registered as a “donation in kind” as required under electoral law.
But in a robust defence in The Independent, Mr Farage accuses The Times, which first published the allegations, of being politically motivated and said he was taking legal advice.
“As a party we’ve been expecting this; Ukip is doing well in the polls and posing a threat to the establishment status quo,” he writes.
“This is one of a repeated series of articles based on false witness and deliberate misinterpretation. MEPs are given a flat rate allowance of £3,580 per month. They do not have to provide receipts for any of that expenditure, but there is a suggested list of what the money ought to be spent on. Whilst my office has been kindly lent to me by a supporter, there are still associated costs to pay.
“It is not for me to defend this system, after all I want it abolished. But ever since 1999 I have expressly stated that Ukip MEPs will use the wherewithal provided by the EU Parliament to campaign for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. I make no apologies for that. What I have not done is to buy a house with a taxpayer-funded mortgage or seek to make personal gain from these allowances. There is no link to be made between the costs of me doing my job as an MEP and MPs who have ‘flipped’ second homes to avoid capital gains tax, claimed expenses for duck houses, moat cleaning and poppy wreathes.”
The allegations are potentially damaging to Mr Farage as he has previously stridently condemned MPs for abusing their expenses. It also makes it harder for him to portray Ukip as the anti-establishment party prepared to take on vested interests in Westminster.
He said at the time the former Culture Secretary Maria Miller resigned that it was not “enough” and called for voters to be given the right to sack MPs who have stepped out of line.
“Yet again this is the political class looking after its own and letting down the electorate,” he said at the time.
Ukip’s spokesman Patrick O’Flynn refused to answer questions about why Mr Farage’s rent-free premises had not been declared to the Electoral Commission as a donation in kind.
He would also not answer detailed questions about where the £17,000 had been spent.
“All I will say is that we are confident that Mr Farage has abided by the EU Parliament rules at all times when spending allowances,” he said.
MEP allowances the rules
Under Article 13 of the Payment of Expenses and Allowances to Members of the European Parliament, MEPs are allowed to claim a General Expenditure Allowance intended to meet expenditure resulting from “activities in their capacity as Members not covered by other allowances”.
The allowance – of around £3,800 a month – covers travel within the UK, office management and running costs, purchase or rental of office equipment, telephone and postage, office supplies, purchase of publications, internet and IT hardware and software.
However, allowance may not be used to cover personal expenses or to finance subsidies or gifts of a political nature. Under the rules, MEPs have to make an annual account of their use of the allowance – certified by an independent, professionally qualified accountant. MEPs also have to publish the expenditure under GEA by category online.