MPs' expenses repayments revealed
Monday 11 April 2011
Full details of MPs' expenses repayments - and how dozens had their overall bills cut - can be revealed today.
A breakdown released to the Press Association under freedom of information rules shows that politicians handed back a total of £1.46 million between April 2009 and the general election.
But the figure could have been higher if apparent loopholes in the official review of their claims had not effectively cut many bills.
Evidence of the issues comes after the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) announced it is "actively considering" giving MPs freer rein over budgets again, and checking their spending retrospectively.
The Commons authorities had previously only published partial details of the mass payback that ensued when abuses became public two years ago.
But they have now spelled out the sums returned by each politician, including travel and office expenses as well as notorious spending on second homes.
The material shows:
:: The number of MPs who took back money they had repaid was higher than thought. Ex-Treasury Chief Secretary Liam Byrne, who left a note for new coalition ministers joking that there was "no money left", recouped £1,349.41.
:: Others appear to have saved significant sums because parliamentary officials "offset" their voluntary repayments against separate misclaims identified by Sir Thomas Legg's audit.
:: Disgraced Eric Illsley handed back £798 of the cost of a TV in February last year. The former Labour MP is believed to have been under investigation by police over expenses abuses at the time, and has since been jailed.
:: Tony Blair returned £388 in unspecified second home expenses last March - his only repayment. Mr Blair, who has made millions since leaving Downing Street, was criticised for claiming thousands of pounds for renovating his second home days before quitting as an MP.
:: Liberal Democrat Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander repaid £1,933.29 in mortgage interest in the run-up to the general election.
:: Altogether, MPs returned just over £1.46 million across all expenses types between April 2009 and the general election, including rulings by the Standards & Privileges Committee.
The details highlight an apparent flaw in the process that saw Sir Thomas review all MPs' second home claims from 2004-9.
Politicians scrambled to return embarrassing claims after the Daily Telegraph began revealing expenses information.
But when Sir Thomas started work, his tight remit meant he only identified spending that was outside the lax rules in force during the period. He also did not consider the notorious practice of "flipping" home designations, or capital gains from selling taxpayer-funded properties.
Final bills for MPs were then calculated by subtracting previous repayments from the Legg figure - even where the expenditure involved was entirely separate.
That seems to have brought significant savings for some MPs. Examples include:
:: Former Labour MP Charlotte Atkins voluntarily repaid £10,266.50 relating to "food, cleaning, decorating repairs and cleaning and curtains/carpet" from the financial year 2008-9.
Sir Thomas's remit meant he did not object to that particular spending - but he did find she had misclaimed nearly £5,000 for gardening, cleaning and a new bathroom between 2004 and 2007.
Because she had already repaid more than that, she was never asked for the money.
:: Shadow transport minister Andrew Gwynne handed back £1,798 he had claimed for uninsured flood damage at his flat.
That was not questioned by Sir Thomas - but the audit did find the Denton and Reddish MP had received £2,969.56 too much in mortgage interest and double-claimed £358 for the same piece of furniture.
Mr Gwynne was only asked to top up the sum - effectively saving £1,798.
The Commons authorities are understood to have allowed all voluntary repayments to be offset after deciding it would be "impossible" to match individual items against Sir Thomas's findings.
Those who had already repaid more than the Legg demand were quietly offered a rebate by parliamentary officials, and 23 MPs were already known to have taken up the opportunity.
They included Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, who reclaimed £4.47 - the same amount she had spent on dog food - and Tory Sir John Butterfill, who recouped £15,000 he had handed over as a "goodwill" gesture.
Parliamentary officials have now revealed that shadow work and pensions secretary Mr Byrne also benefited from a rebate. As the scandal broke he repaid £3,618.42.
That included £1,757 claimed for a property purchase with his brother, and £500 for phone bills and excess rent.
He argued that MPs were "well paid" and had to take responsibility for errors by the Fees Office.
However, according to the Commons, the member for Birmingham Hodge Hill later asked for £1,349.41 back after Sir Thomas demanded just £111.84 for mobile telephone costs.
Meanwhile, Labour's Jim Sheridan (Paisley & Renfrewshire North) recouped £379.41, and ex-MP colleague Rob Marris £3,283.39 of a previous £4,500 repayment for furniture costs.
Ex-Staffordshire Moorlands MP Ms Atkins told the Press Association she had merely complied with the audit process that had been organised by the Commons authorities.
"There was not really a choice for us to make," she said. "The whole process has been slightly chaotic, and the present arrangements seem to be slightly chaotic as well."
She stressed she had not requested a rebate from the Commons.
Mr Gwynne said he had been ill during the Legg process at the end of 2009, and his office had dealt with the details.
"We are trying to check the situation," he said. "I am quite clear that as far as I am concerned we paid back everything that was requested as part of the audit. If the audit got that wrong, then I will rectify it."
Mr Marris confirmed he had accepted a rebate after Sir Thomas demanded a lower repayment than he initially expected. "I abided by what he asked for," he added.
Mr Sheridan said he would not be commenting. "It's in the past," he added.
Mr Byrne's office did not respond to numerous phone calls and emails.
TaxPayers' Alliance spokeswoman Charlotte Linacre said: "It's disgraceful that loopholes in the system for paying back wrongly-claimed expenses have let some MPs off the hook.
"The fact that MPs scrambled to return taxpayers' cash shows that they believed they had wrongly taken money, or claimed too much.
"Once the heat was off MPs should have stood by that decision, rather than taken back the money. These revelations will call into doubt whether MPs are ready to be handed freer rein over budgets again."
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