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How the office cost allowance works

On top of the basic salary of £48,000, MLAs are also allowed to claim office cost allowances (OCAs) of up to £71,378 per member.

These OCAs are designed to allow MLAs to rent an office and employ staff.

All claims are submitted to the Assembly Commission, must be signed by the MLA and accompanied by receipts.

Most MLAs claim the maximum amount or very close to it, creating a bill to the public purse of around £8m a year just on OCAs.

All of what MLAs claim is published on the Northern Ireland Assembly's website.

The claims range from electricity to telephone bills, rates bills and waste collection services.

The largest claims concern employing staff.

The Independent Financial Review Panel was established in 2011 to examine MLA expenses.

It produced its first report in 2012. This report gave MLAs a pay increase but cut OCA allowances. It also ruled that MLAs who are also councillors would have 100% of their councillor allowance deducted from their MLA salary, and MLAs who are also MPs would see their office cost expenses progressively reduced from £37,928 per year to £8,655 per year by 1 April 2014.

The panel also ruled that MLAs may only employ one relative. However, if they already employed more than one relative they were allowed to retain them.

Expenses must now also be paid into the MLA's bank account.

From April 1, 2015 the total OCA allowance per MLA will be reduced by 3% to £67,161. For MLAs who are also MPs, expenses will be reduced from £8,655 to zero.

rebecca black

Belfast Telegraph