MPs pursued for thousands in overpaid expenses

Exclusive: Parliamentary watchdog warns members to pay up or face tough restrictions on spending 

Oliver Wright
Monday 12 January 2015 21:39
A 10ft high duck house sails down the Thames in protest to the abuse of MP's expenses in London in November, 2009. It was in reference to the £1,645 in expenses claimed by Sir Peter Viggers (Corbis)
A 10ft high duck house sails down the Thames in protest to the abuse of MP's expenses in London in November, 2009. It was in reference to the £1,645 in expenses claimed by Sir Peter Viggers (Corbis)

MPs are being pursued for thousands of pounds in overpaid expenses before the House of Commons is dissolved for the election.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) estimates that it is currently owed more than £22,000 by 38 MPs from the past financial year alone.

It has now written to all members warning that it will start restricting access to their Parliamentary payment card, veto staff salary increases and stop rental payments to recover the money.

The move could leave some MPs struggling to balance their finances in the run-up to May’s election. Some MPs are understood to owe the authority several thousand pounds.

The Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss was being pursued for a £10 overcharge.

Ipsa also revealed that it was still owed money from some MPs who have left the House of Commons. The Labour MP Eric Joyce who was forced to step down after being convicted of assault, owed £5,410, while David Miliband owed £145.40.

The threat is contained in a letter to all MPs from Alan Little, Ipsa’s head of finance, sent earlier this week. It said that while Ipsa had allowed MPs to offset older overpaid expenses into the next financial year, this was no longer possible because an election loomed.

“During this Parliament, we have provided all MPs with the flexibility to manage your budgets ... on the basis that you will ensure that there are no overspends at the end of the Parliament,” he wrote.

“MPs would not wish to be seen to be owing money to the taxpayer at this point. Similarly, we do not want to have to recover outstanding debts from MPs who have left Parliament.”

Elizabeth Truss, the Environment Secretary, is being pursued by IPSA for a £10 overcharge

He goes on to outline a number of measures that Ipsa intends to take to recover the money from future expense claims unless MPs settle up.

“Later this month, you will receive a financial statement from us. For those of you who still have debts outstanding as we near year-end, our statement will tell you that we can now start to deduct the amount owed against future claims.

“Also, if you are forecast to overspend on your staffing, accommodation or office costs budgets, we may need to stop direct rental payments; restrict your access to the payment card; and decline to put new members of staff on to your payroll or apply salary increases where this would take you over budget.

It added: “In a few cases, we may also need to decline claims for staff overtime.”

Under Ipsa rules MPs are given a budget to pay for staff and office accommodation. But they cannot cross-subsidise these budgets and overspends in any area will have to be made up from MPs’ own pockets.

But some MPs who have been told they owe money have criticised Ipsa, claiming its figures are based on miscalculations.

One said: “I got a letter telling me that I owed the money but when I challenged them they admitted it was their mistake,” said one.

“They are just not as efficient as they should be and that’s all very well, but when they’re wrongly naming and shaming us, that’s not very helpful.”

Ipsa has defended its plan to recover the money.

“We are carrying out the necessary housekeeping ahead of the election to protect the public purse and to help MPs manage their accounts,” said a spokesman.

“Part of that means recovering any amounts due to the taxpayer and so, of course, we’re doing just that.”

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