DUP couple Peter and Iris Robinson have been challenged for claiming that their Parliamentary food expenses worked out at an average of £73 per week each.
Critics have argued that this calculation does not take into account lengthy Parliamentary recess periods and their partial attendance records at the Commons.
It was revealed by the Daily Telegraph yesterday that Mr and Mrs Robinson claimed a combined total of £30,525 for MP food expenses between 2004 and 2008. It also reported that they each regularly claimed the maximum £400 monthly figure from the Commons.
In a statement Mr Robinson said the £30,525 total equates in reality “to an average of £73 per week”.
The Commons is in recess for more than a third of the year, including close to three months in the summer.
When the House has been sitting Mr and Mrs Robinson have had to divide their time between its business and their high-profile jobs at the Northern Ireland Assembly.
An Ulster Unionist Party website yesterday cited independent research stating that Mr Robinson had attended 37.4% of Commons votes since 2005 and Mrs Robinson 28.4%.
The website also said: “By the way, the average UK family food bill is calculated to be £100 per week for a family of four, equating to £5,200 per year.”
Defending the food claims for 2004 to 2008, a DUP spokesman said: “During the particular period in question from 2004 onwards Mr Robinson was in London on a regular basis on Parliamentary business, negotiations, meetings with Government ministers and senior officials.
“Commonly, such business spanned between two and four days per week at its most intense.”
The food expenses were claimed under the second home allowance for MPs, which is now worth £24,000 a year per member.
Mr and Mrs Robinson, like other husband and wife MPs, are each entitled to claim the full figure.
The material leaked to the Daily Telegraph also showed that they have claimed £2,172 per month in mortgage interest under the allowance. The mortgage is for a flat in the Docklands area of London they jointly purchased in 2001.
Mr Robinson has emphasised that all expenses money paid to his wife and him by Parliament was “legitimately claimed”.
He described the current allowances system for MPs as “shambolic” and in need of urgent replacement.
As First Minister, Mr Robinson’s combined salary from Westminster and Stormont is now close to £150,000 a year.
Mrs Robinson currently earns some £95,000 from her roles as MP, MLA, Assembly committee chair and Castlereagh councillor.