Everyone is talking about the House of Lords after Boris Johnson’s government announced 36 new life peers.
The Lords is already the biggest parliamentary chamber in any democracy, and the new appointments will take the number of sitting members above 800.
It’s one of the biggest increases in decades and new appointments include a number of prominent Brexiteers as well as the Prime Minister’s brother, the former Conservative MP Jo Johnson.
Critics have been questioning many aspects of how Britain’s second chamber operates, including the expenses arrangements.
We’ve seen a number of tweets and posts on social media going viral on recent days, like this one, which compares the daily expenses claim for a member of the House of Lords to the monthly payout to a Universal Credit claimant.
The numbers don’t quite match up as exactly as this, but the comparison isn’t far off. In fact, the average daily expenses claimed by peers attending the House of Lords is more than many benefit claimants would get each month, per person.
Universal Credit is a single payment for people who are unemployed or working on a low income. It was brought in to replace the separate payments made under Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and other benefits and tax credits.
A single Universal Credit claimant under 25 gets £342.72 a month. This rises to £409.89 for single people aged 25 or over.
But a couple over 25 would get a maximum of £594.04 between them, so that works out as just under £300 each, if the money is split equally. For a couple under 25 it’s £488.59 or £244 and change each.
This is after the substantial increases to Universal Credit that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced in April in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, members of the House of Lords are not paid a salary, but they can claim a daily attendance rate of £323. Some choose to take a lower payment for attendance – currently £162 – or nothing at all. All these payments are tax-free.
Peers can also claim travel expenses on top of this. But the Lords expenses regime is much more limited than the Commons, where MPs can claim for hotel accommodation and costs associated with maintaining a second home and running an office.
So it’s right to say that a member of the House of Lords claiming the full attendance rate would get more per day than someone claiming Universal Credit as half of a couple would get in a month.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a realistic comparison. Many people in hardship will qualify for additional state benefits, while some members of the Lords choose not to claim the expenses available to them.
Peers will not be able to collect the attendance payment every day. The number of days the Lords sit varies wildly but averages out around at around 150 a year. On the other hand, membership – and the chance to claim regular expenses – is for life.
How much do peers actually claim?
According to FactCheck’s calculations, the current sitting members of the House of Lords (excluding people who have recently resigned or died or are on a leave of absence) claimed £17.4m on expenses over the 11 months between April 2019 and February 2020.
Most of that – £14.3m – was spent on the attendance allowance. Almost all the rest went on travel costs, including £480,000 for air travel.
The average amount claimed per peer was just over £22,500 over those 11 months, but there is a lot of variation between individuals.
Almost 100 peers claimed no money in the time period we looked at, while others claimed tens of thousands, which makes calculating averages of limited value.
Collectively, the Lords attended for 52,064 days, which works out as an average cost to the taxpayer of £334 for every day a peer attended parliament.