Expenses breach MP Harry Cohen to forfeit resettlement grant

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Labour MP Harry Cohen was today ordered to forfeit his £65,000 resettlement grant for a "particularly serious breach" of parliamentary rules.

The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee ruled that he designated a house in Colchester, Essex, as his main home even though he was not living there for long periods and rented it out.

"Mr Cohen's breach was particularly serious and it involved a large sum of public money," the committee said.

"Withholding of the resettlement grant is a severe sanction, which will effectively recover from Mr Cohen a similarly large sum of public money."

The committee said Mr Cohen should also make a public apology for his conduct on the floor of the Commons.

An investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, found that Mr Cohen had consistently designated the house in Colchester as his main home since he bought it in 1998.

It enabled him to claim the second homes allowance on a succession of properties in his Leyton and Wanstead constituency in east London.

However, from 2004 to 2008, Mr Cohen and his wife spent most of their time living in the constituency, while periodically letting out the Colchester house to tenants on six-month leases.

During that period he claimed and received more than £70,000 in second homes allowances.

The committee pointed out that an outer London MP with just one home would have been entitled to claim just £9,000 in the London supplement over the same period.

As a result, it said Mr Cohen should now forfeit the £65,000 resettlement grant which he was due to receive when he stood down as a MP at the forthcoming general election.

The committee acknowledged that Mr Cohen faced particular difficulties as his wife suffered a stroke in 2004 and required regularly treatment at a north London hospital, which made it impossible for them to carry on living in Colchester.

While it acknowledged that the couple had always intended to return to the Colchester house, where they plan to retire, it said it should have been clear by April 2004 that was not going to happen in the short term.

"Mr Cohen's constituency home was his main home - and for long periods his only home - throughout the four and a half years when he was making little use of the house in Colchester," it said.

"In our view, Mr Cohen would have been well-advised to claim London supplement during the period that the house was let."