MPs are claiming expenses to rent houses or pay for hotel rooms in London, despite already owning homes in the capital. The first analysis of MPs' claims under a "toughened-up" expenses system reveals that at least eight are renting out their properties while claiming for the cost of living in the same city at taxpayers' expense.
The "London landlords" claiming for the costs of living within miles of properties they own include five new Conservative MPs, two Labour veterans and David Cameron's parliamentary aide, Desmond Swayne.
Mr Swayne's entry in the latest register of MPs' interests declares that he owns "two residential leasehold flats in west London, for which rent is received". In three months after the general election, he claimed more than £1,200 in parliamentary expenses to cover the cost of staying in London hotels while working at the House of Commons. The New Forest West MP said staying in hotels guaranteed "lower costs" for taxpayers. Several MPs said they had been renting out their properties before they entered Parliament, or that the homes were too small for their growing families.
However, critics complained that loopholes were allowing MPs to increase their income now the rules on parliamentary expenses have been tightened. Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayers' Alliance said: "Expenses are supposed to be there so politicians can do their job, not to help them profit from it."
The latest register of MPs' interests reveals that the number of members declaring that they own houses which provide them with a rental income has increased by 70 per cent in a year, to the point that more than one in six are landlords. Half of the 112 MP landlords own properties in London.
The trend comes alongside a crackdown on the expenses procedures, sparked by revelations last year about widespread abuse of the system. The former Labour MP David Chaytor last week pleaded guilty to three charges of false accounting relating to his expenses claims.
The practice of "flipping" designated second homes, and maximising the amount MPs could claim on housing expenses, led to new restrictions. The limit for monthly mortgage interest was reduced to £1,250 a month last year, and claims for mortgage costs will be abolished completely in less than two years.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which runs the new system, last week published 22,000 expenses claims showing that MPs had been paid £3.1m in the first three and a half months after the general election. The data showed that several MPs – including the Prime Minister – rent out homes in London but don't claim parliamentary accommodation costs for living in the capital. But Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts and his Labour colleague Frank Roy both rent out properties in London while claiming their own rent. Tories George Freeman, John Glen and Jessica Lee also rent out London flats, while claiming for expenses including rent, council tax and hotel bills.
None of these MPs was available for comment yesterday. However, Damian Collins, the Tory MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said the London flat he had declared belonged to his wife. Mr Collins, who claimed £4,350 to cover his own rent over three months, added: "It is too small to provide accommodation for my young family, and even if that was not the case, as a new Member of Parliament I wouldn't be able to claim any accommodation allowance against the mortgage on the property."
Iain Stewart, who lived in his London flat before moving to Milton Keynes to stand for Parliament, said: "I decided to rent out my London flat to a tenant to help me meet the mortgage and other costs. I am unable to afford the running costs of two homes and believe that it is important for me to have a base in my constituency."
Clive Betts (Lab, Sheffield South East)
Owns One residential property in London
Claimed £2,900 rent over two months
Damian Collins (Con, Folkestone and Hythe)
Rents out Flat in London
Claimed £4,350 to cover his own rent over three months
George Freeman (Con, Mid Norfolk)
Rents out Flat in London
Claimed £1,560 for hotel stays