MP expenses claims 'take too long'
MPs and their staff are spending a "disproportionate" amount of time on expenses claims under the new system introduced following the scandals of 2009, a parliamentary report has found.
The cost of time spent submitting expenses claims is estimated at £2.4 million a year, with 85% of MPs saying that the bureaucratic burden of the new system has eaten into the time they have available to help constituents, said the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The committee said the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) should consider scaling back checks on expenses, particularly for small items and low-risk claims, to deliver "a more proportionate and cost-effective approach to validation".
The current scheme is "expensive to run and does not yet demonstrate value-for-money", with some 38% of claims costing more to process than the value of the sums involved, said the report.
While the total paid out for expenses and staff salaries has fallen by 15% to £118 million since Ipsa's creation - with £19.5 million going on expenses and £98.6 million on salaries - the PAC warned that this may not necessarily represent an efficiency saving.
Some 90% of MPs say that they are using their own money to subsidise their work because the administrative effort involved in making an expense claim is not worthwhile for small items, it found.
The report by the parliamentary spending watchdog also found that Ipsa has done "a good job" in introducing the new expenses system on time, making accurate payments and helping improve public confidence.
Some 99.7% of claims made by MPs are within the rules and Ipsa says that rejections are overwhelmingly due to administrative errors rather than attempted abuse.
PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: "Ipsa did a good job in introducing the new system for paying MPs' expenses. It came in on time, expenses have been paid within the rules and MPs have been reimbursed accurately. There is evidence that public confidence is starting to improve.
"However, the current scheme is expensive to run and does not yet demonstrate value for money. It is striking that 38% of claims are for less money than the average cost of administering them. Ipsa needs to get better at distinguishing between high-value and high-risk claims, which require rigorous checks, and those where the risk of error is low."