Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 29 May 2016

Departing MLAs entitled to £70k taxpayer-funded 'golden goodbye'

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 20/02/2016

TUV leader Jim Allister
TUV leader Jim Allister

Assembly Members who lose their seats at this year's election will be entitled to pay-off packages worth up to £70,000.

Outgoing MLAs can claim a "resettlement allowance" - worth as much as £48,000 - to help them adjust to life outside Stormont.

They will also be entitled to a £22,000-plus payment to help close down their office.

The expenditure, funded by the taxpayer, has been described as "totally unjustifiable".

Around 15 current MLAs have already signalled they will be stepping down in May.

Each will be entitled to winding up and resettlement allowances, as will any member booted out by voters.

MLAs will also be allowed to keep items previously bought on their Assembly expenses.

The revelation is likely to fuel public anger after a week of controversy surrounding Stormont expenses.

David Hoey, Northern Ireland co-ordinator of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said the payments were too big.

"Of course there will be some expenses incurred by departing MLAs winding up their offices, as well as staff redundancies to be handled, but taxpayers would expect those costs to be fully accounted for and kept to a minimum," he said.

"What especially sticks in the craw is the fact that those MLAs departing of their own volition are being handed a five-figure taxpayer-funded golden goodbye.

"Particularly when budgets are so tight, this kind of largesse is totally unjustifiable, as is the ability of former MLAs to keep the Aladdin's cave of gadgets and gizmos they've bought with taxpayers' money for their offices over the years."

In recent days MLAs have been issued with guidance on the various allowances available to Members not returning after the May 5 election.

A resettlement allowance is available to each outgoing MLA.

The guidance states: "Members who do not stand for election or who are not returned to the Assembly will be entitled to a resettlement allowance payment based on age and the number of complete years of service as a Member at dissolution."

Anyone who has served the full Assembly term will be eligible for between 41% and 100% of their £48,000 salary.

Under current tax legislation, members won't have to pay tax on the first £30,000. Outgoing MLAs can also claim a winding-up expenditure "to meet necessary expenses incurred in winding up" their business.

This is capped at £22,387 and is provided to cover contractual obligations such as pay in lieu of notice for support staff, salary costs for staff who continue to work winding-up the constituency office and office rental agreements.

While accepting that winding-up and resettlement allowances were a common feature of British politics, TUV leader Jim Allister questioned the award of large resettlement payments to outgoing MLAs of retirement age. He said: "There is a certain justification for both, but I would have concerns as to the scale of the resettlement allowance, as it might coincide with pension eligibility."

He added: "The winding-up allowance, because it's focused on winding up an office where staff are made redundant, is fair enough.

"That is standard for any legislature, as is the resettlement allowance.

"It is perhaps the scale of the payments that would concern rather than the principle of it."

The Assembly said office cost expenditure (OCE) varies depending on whether a Member is retiring or loses their seat.

"For those that are retiring, OCE is payable up to the date of dissolution of the Assembly and for those not re-elected it is payable up to the date of the poll," a spokesperson said.

"Winding-up expenditure is recoverable in respect of a person who ceases to be a member and it covers the actual expenditure which has been incurred during a maximum period of four months starting with the date on which he or she ceases to be a Member."

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