27 MPs let homes and claim rent
MPs are embroiled in a new expenses row after it emerged that 27 are letting out London homes at the same time as claiming public money to rent in the city.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox, shadow ministers Andy Burnham, Jim Murphy and Chris Bryant, and Communities Minister Don Foster are among those listed as raking in income from properties while receiving up to £20,000 a year in expenses. Although the practice does not break any rules, it will fuel concerns that politicians are still able to profit from Commons allowances.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority's (Ipsa) blanket ban on MPs claiming mortgage interest came into effect this summer. They are now only permitted to receive expenses for renting.
The move was intended to head off criticism after the scandal three years ago showed politicians had been using public money to build up property portfolios. However, it also appears to have created an incentive for many to vacate homes they own.
Research by the Daily Telegraph identified Tory MPs David Amess and Peter Luff, and Liberal Democrat ex-defence minister Nick Harvey among those letting out properties in the capital while also claiming expenses for renting. The names could only be deduced because Ipsa released partial postcodes of taxpayer-funded second homes - which could then be cross-referenced with the parliamentary register of interests.
The disclosure followed linked concerns that MPs are able to exploit a "loophole" in the rules to rent properties to colleagues, who then claim the costs on expenses. It is understood that four MPs are currently renting from four other MPs - although there are no cases of home "swaps".
Linda Riordan, the Labour MP for Halifax, lets her London flat to fellow Labour MP Iain McKenzie for £18,720 a year, according to the Daily Mail. Mr McKenzie told the paper: "If I had known beforehand that the flat was owned by an MP then I probably wouldn't have taken it. You've got to apply the test of how it looks to the man in the street, regardless of whether it's above board or not."
Commons Speaker John Bercow was accused of trying to suppress details of the matter after warning Ipsa that revealing the identities of politicians' landlords would be a "security risk".
The watchdog had been due to disclose the material in response to another Freedom of Information (FOI) request. However, the process has now been put on hold in the wake of Mr Bercow's intervention.
In a letter to Ipsa, Mr Bercow insisted there was a "very real danger" that MPs' residential addresses could be discovered as a result of the planned publication. Responding to the Speaker's letter, Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of Ipsa, insisted the authority "would not, under any circumstances, release the full address" of an MP.