Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Expenses ‘disclosure day’ is a damp squib

Taxpayers expecting to see the full details of expenses claimed by Northern Ireland MPs were in for a letdown yesterday.

It was to have been the first expenses ‘disclosure day’ for the House of Commons voted in following the General Election in May. But in a situation that at times bordered on farce, the website containing the promised details ground swiftly to a halt.

It also proved less than user-friendly or reliable when it started working again.

It further transpired that there were gaps in the information being released.

A number of MPs — including several from Northern Ireland — were listed as not having made any claims to date.

In addition, the website publication did not cover all the MPs in the House. It was not a great day overall for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the body releasing the information.

It was set up to run a new MP expenses system following last year's scandal over the old arrangements run by Commons officials. As well as the website difficulties, IPSA came in for criticism as MPs debated a resolution condemning its “unnecessarily high costs and inadequacies”.

The expenses published yesterday covered the period from May to August. The details involved 20,000 expense claims by 576 MPs, totalling £3.1m.

Information relating to Northern Ireland MPs was predictably mundane. The SDLP's Mark Durkan, for example, claimed £4,791, almost half of which was for London hotel bills, and £2,106 for rates.

New Alliance MP Naomi Long claimed a total of £2,855, made up of £1,430 in rent, £176 in rental arrangement fees and the rest on hotel accommodation.

Claims by the DUP's David Simpson added up to £5,240, including a £1,330 council tax bill and mortgage interest payments of up to £596 a month.

IPSA's website struggled when receiving more than 80,000 hits within the first hour-and-a-half of publication.

The organisation has come in for criticism for refusing to publish the actual receipts submitted or reveal details of any of 1,574 rejected claims.

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