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MPs' expenses explained

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 23 March 2009

Tony McNulty, the employment minister, has faced criticism for claiming £60,000 in allowances on a property in which his parents live. So what are the rules? Channel 4 News online explains.

Q: What allowances are MPs allowed to claim?
A: On top of an annual salary of £63,291, MPs are entitled to claim for a range of things including staffing, IT equipment, travel, pension provision, communications and housing.

Q: How much can MPs claim for housing?
A: The type of housing allowance MPs can claim for depends upon where they live, and effectively breaks down into two categories: those with constituencies in inner London, and those with seats in the rest of the UK.

Q: How much can MPs with constituencies in inner London claim?
A: Because they live close to Westminster, these MPs can't claim as much in housing costs as their outer London and regional colleagues, as it is deemed that their need to stay away from home is comparatively low. At present, inner London MPs are able to claim £2,916 a year, under the "London supplement". This will change next month to £7,500 a year under a new "London costs allowance".

Accounting for expenses

Five expenses claims that caused controversy for MPs.

  • Tony McNulty: the employment minister claimed £14,000 per year on his parents house in his constituency in Harrow. He insists he acted within the rules.
  • Jacqui Smith: the home secretary is facing an inquiry after claiming £20,000 per year on her home in her constituency in Redditch, saying that her sister's home in London was her main residence. She denies any wrong doing.
  • Caroline Spelman: The Meriden MP was told to pay back £9,600 after the parliamentary standards commissioner found that she had unintentionally breached Commons rules by paying her children's nanny through Parliamentary allowances, saying that the nanny was working as a constituency secretary.

  • Nicholas and Ann Winterton: the husband and wife who are both MPs in Cheshire were found to have breached the expenses rules when they claimed £21,600 per year in rent on their London flat after paying off the mortgage and transferring the ownership of the £700,000 property into a family trust.
  • Derek Conway: the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup was suspended from the Commons and ordered to return £13,161 in January 2008 for paying more than £200,000 to his family, including to his youngest son, Freddie, who was a full time student in Newcastle at the time.

Q: How much can MPs with constituencies in the rest of the country claim?
A: MPs from around the country are entitled to far higher housing allowances, as for example, a member from Scotland will need to be in London for most of the week and thus cannot commute each day and needs a second home.

These costs are covered under the additional costs allowance, which permits expenses of up to £24,006 a year for accommodation. MPs with consistencies in outer London - such as Harrow East MP Tony McNulty - can still claim this allowance despite the constituency being relatively close (11 miles) to Westminster.

Q: What criteria do the MP have to meet to be able to claim the housing allowance?
A: It is recognised that MPs have two places of work, Westminster and their constituency. MPs must notify the Commons as to their main residence - and expenses can only be claimed when they stay overnight away from it.

This is where McNulty has faced criticism, as he has not really lived in the constituency home for which he claims an allowance since 2001; as he moved to live with his wife in Hammersmith eight years ago and rarely spends the night in Harrow. McNulty's move to Hammersmith left his parents to live in the Harrow East property on a permanent basis.

Q: Is Tony McNulty still claiming this housing allowance?
A: The employment minister claimed up to £14,000 a year under this allowance since 2001 for the Harrow home. He stopped claiming the allowance in January of this year, saying he felt "discomfort" at receiving the allowance.

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