Expenses system is a 'nightmare' say MPs

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Indy Politics

Westminster's new expenses watchdog was attempting to repair the damage done to its reputation by a series of teething problems yesterday as MPs complained that the new system was a "nightmare".

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) was also accused of breaches of security after one MP complained that its new online system had given him access to a colleague's expenses history by mistake.

MPs have been promised further meetings with Ipsa officials to improve relations. Many felt patronised by the body's decision to employ junior civil servants, many of whom are in their early twenties, to advise them on the new expenses structure. Others have been left out of pocket by up-front costs.

In a debate on the problems in Parliament yesterday, David Winnick, the veteran Labour MP for Walsall North, said it was "very difficult indeed to get any sense out of Ipsa".

He said: "It is indefensible that Ipsa should have set up a system which is so difficult and so complex, and, particularly for new members, has made life a nightmare."

The online system had been the one part of the system which officials had been confident was working correctly. However, Phil Wilson, the Labour MP for Sedgefield, complained he had accessed the expenses records of another MP after finally managing to sign in. "In my view that is not a computer glitch, that is a gross intrusion into another member's privacy," he said.

Ipsa issued a series of compromises yesterday in an attempt to defuse the escalating row. MPs have been given more time to repay advances given to them to cover office costs. It has also proposed altering the expenses scheme to reimburse MPs' staff members for hotel and other subsistence bills, a measure that would cost the taxpayer around £1.5m.

Sir Ian Kennedy, Ipsa's chairman, admitted that setting up the new system had been "challenging".

Dennis Skinner, another Labour MP, said he had been sent an email by Ipsa intended for a colleague. "It's not about Ipsa, it's not about being an independent body – we all welcome that, we all voted for that. It's about the fact that it is not secure," he said.