NIO Minister Paul Goggins and four of Northern Ireland’s MPs have been drawn into a fresh expenses row after it emerged they were receiving monthly payouts for fixed sums without needing to provide any receipts.
They each requested a set amount — up to £250 — which was wired into bank accounts each month without any explanation about what it would be used for.
A Freedom of Information request revealed the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell and party leader Mark Durkan, along with the DUP's Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell, as well as Mr Goggins were among the 60 MPs using the petty cash payments system.
Over four years Mr Goggins received £9,600, Mr McDonnell £6,750, Mr Wilson £3,200, Mr Durkan £2,650 and Mr Campbell £1,550.
The practice was condemned by pressure group the TaxPayers' Alliance, which called for more transparency.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive, said: “The amount of money being claimed as petty cash is astounding. This practice is completely unacceptable. The public want to see complete transparency.”
But MPs insisted the cash was used to cover office incidentals and having it wired was the most efficient way of running the system.
Mr Goggins said: “Since 2004 I have claimed £200 per month for petty cash. This was used to pay for incidental expenses in my constituency office.
“Items paid for included equipment in the office, a first aid box and general items that were needed at short notice or had been paid for in advance by my staff.
“Since April 2008, a record of all items paid for out of petty cash has been kept in accordance with the House of Commons guidance.”
An SDLP spokesman said: “Petty cash is used through dedicated accounts to buy everything from teabags and newspapers to toilet roll needed for the efficient running of constituency offices.
“As in any organisation the main purpose is to be able to make small purchases locally and efficiently with a minimum of bureaucracy. ”
A spokesman for the DUP said the money was put towards providing a first class service for constituents by meeting incidental expenses including office and other regular works carried out on a month to month basis.
While all MPs were allowed to claim up to £250 for office incidentals each month without submitting receipts until last April, many provided receipts.
New rules mean the petty cash limit has been slashed to £50 per month.