Darling apologises 'unreservedly' in fight to keep his job

Chancellor agrees to pay back £668 expenses claim

Alistair Darling was fighting to keep his job as Chancellor last night after he was forced to repay nearly £700 of expenses wrongly claimed for running his London flat.

He returned the cash to the taxpayer after it emerged that he had claimed more than £1,000 for service charges while the property was rented out and he was living in his grace-and-favour Downing Street home. As Gordon Brown insisted the Chancellor had made an "inadvertent" mistake with his allowances claims, senior government sources dismissed suggestions he would be moved out of the Treasury in the reshuffle expected within days.

But the embarrassing spectacle of the guardian of the nation's finances being obliged to hand back money wrongly claimed from the taxpayer is a savage blow to his credibility.

It comes after three weeks of damaging disclosures over his expenses claims that prompted calls for his dismissal. Mr Darling has been accused of "flipping" his designated second home to maximise his parliamentary allowances. He also used an accountant at the taxpayers' expense to complete his tax returns.

Last night the Chancellor appeared defensive as he apologised "unreservedly" in a series of interviews designed to shore up his position and announced he would pay back £668. "I do not want to be gaining from something I should not have been," he said.

"All of us as ministers ... have to abide by the highest standards. I have tried to do what is right, to do what is required and ensure that I live up to the standards that people expect for their elected representatives."

Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, also joined the list last night of Cabinet members making repayments after "inadvertently" overclaiming £384 for a TV licence, household insurance and British Gas home care.

He said he claimed for bills in 2006 on his second home in Derbyshire but received a grace-and-favour Whitehall home later that year. He had omitted to return the money for the months he was living in London and apologised for his "administrative error".

The odds are narrowing on Mr Darling being moved sideways or out of the Cabinet in the reshuffle that will follow this week's European and council elections. The favourite to replace him is Mr Brown's ally, the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls.

Mr Darling would be switched to the Home Office to replace Jacqui Smith, who has asked to step down as Home Secretary after enduring torrid headlines over her expenses claims. Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, who has also come under fire for "flipping" her designated second home, could also be vulnerable in the reshuffle.

Asked if he expected to be moved from his role, Mr Darling said: "Gordon and I work very, very closely together. But at the end of the day it is his call."

The Chancellor initially denied that he claimed £1,004 for six months of service charges on his flat in Kennington, south London, when he moved to Downing Street in September 2007.

But he later admitted: "When I reclaimed the cost of the service charge in July [2007] I was living in the flat. However, because the service charge covered the period beyond September into December, I will repay the service charge from September to December."

Aides said he would return £668 – representing four months' service charges – to the Commons Fees Office.

His retreat, hours after he insisted he had done nothing wrong, meant Mr Brown had to modify his robust backing for his Chancellor. Mr Brown told Sky News: "Where a mistake was pointed out to him, and I think it was inadvertent, he acted immediately. He has paid back the money so there is no doubt about what his course of action would be in these circumstances."

Nick Clegg, the Liber al Democrat leader, demanded that Mr Darling be removed from the Treasury: "He is the guardian of our money. We have to trust the Chancellor to be able to look after our money properly."

David Cameron, the Tory leader, accused Mr Brown of hanging his Chancellor "out to dry" with lukewarm words of support. "I think what matters is that the Prime Minister either backs him or sacks him," he said. "I think this just leaving him hanging out to dry is very bad."

The charges against the Chancellor

'Flipping'

What he did: Redesignated his "main home" four times in four years. This enabled him to claim thousands of pounds towards maintaining the family home in Edinburgh and then buy a flat in Kennington, south London, and kit it out at the taxpayers' expense.

Defence: Within the rules.

Verdict: Took full advantage of the flexible expenses system to furnish his London flat and maintain his Edinburgh home.



Stamp duty

What he did: Put in a £2,260 claim for stamp duty, and a further £1,238 for legal costs, when he bought his London flat.

Defence: Within the rules.

Verdict: Lucky to be an MP, enjoying a perk that few other people with second homes can benefit from.



Fitting out London flat

What he did: Claimed £2,074 from the taxpayer for furniture, including a £768 bed from Marks & Spencer and a £765 Ikea chaise longue. A "magnolia" carpet cost another £2,339. Submitted bills for bed linen, vases, tea towels, an oven mitt and a 75p carrier bag.

Defence: Within the rules.

Verdict: Hasn't shown much of the fiscal prudence expected from chancellors.



Hotel bill

What he did: Tried to claim £146 for a hotel stay while the flat was being refurbished. Initially rejected because he was claiming for a "second home" in London. He successfully appealed against the ruling on the grounds he was "between second homes".

Defence: Within the rules.

Verdict: Surprising he found the time in his ministerial diary to pursue the claim.



Grace and favour flat

What he did: One month after moving to 11 Downing Street as Chancellor he started renting out his London flat. Later he designated his Edinburgh property as second home.

Defence: Within the rules (at the time).

Verdict: Benefited three times over. First by getting grace-and-favour flat, then by making money out of London flat and finally by getting Edinburgh bills paid. Grace and favour loophole closed last month.



Tax advice

What he did: Was reimbursed for the £1,400 cost of employing a private accountant over two years to complete his personal tax returns.

Defence: Within the rules (and paid tax on the benefit) as the returns were for his office costs.

Verdict: Opaque Commons guidance on use of accountants to Mr Darling's benefit. Disconcerting that the man running the Treasury needs taxpayer-funded help to fill in his returns.



Claimed on two homes

What he did: While living in Downing Street, he was reimbursed for a £1,004 service charge for his south London flat even though he had moved out.

Defence: In Gordon Brown's words, it was an "inadvertent" mistake. Is paying back about £700.

Verdict: A lack of attention to detail is worrying in the person charged with leading the country out of recession.

Nigel Morris

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat