MPs’ expenses: Officials colluded over mortgage claims
My own opinion on this serious matter is quiet different to most of Britons I’m afraid.
I’m convinced that this whole matter, even though very disturbing indeed, is brought to our attention for two (for now) reasons.
One is because the Telegraph is a tory rag and two to divert attention from the fact that we’re bankrupt.
Anyway, I hope you’re not surprised that those who made the expenses rules take advantage of them.
By Robert Winnett and Jon Swaine
Last Updated: 10:08PM BST 17 May 2009
House of Commons officials colluded with MPs to let them make inflated claims on their mortgages, leaked internal documents seen by The Daily Telegraph have disclosed.
Parliamentary authorities, overseen by Michael Martin, the Speaker, gave secret permission for some MPs to over-claim for thousands of pounds in home loan interest in deals that led to the systematic abuse of the taxpayer-funded expenses system.
Ben Chapman, a Labour MP, admitted last night that he was allowed to continue claiming for interest payments on his entire mortgage after repaying £295,000 of the loan in 2002.
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Over 10 months the arrangement allowed Mr Chapman to receive £15,000 for the part of the home loan which had been paid off. Last night, he said he would not give back the money.
Permission to claim “phantom” mortgage payments is understood to have been offered to several MPs before 2004. It was stopped after Commons officials admitted it should never have been allowed. Michael Martin has been Speaker since 2000 and was therefore ultimately responsible for the arrangements – which has never been independently investigated.
He will make a statement today on the growing expenses scandal after a sustained attempt by MPs to unseat him.
None of the other MPs who have benefited from the phantom mortgage deal have been publicly named or are thought to have been asked to pay back claims. Some MPs who were found to have over-claimed for mortgages were simply invited to “dig out” receipts to cover the illegitimate claims.
The Daily Telegraph has disclosed that two Labour MPs, Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, claimed for mortgages that did not exist. They say the claims were an oversight. Both have been suspended from the parliamentary party and face police investigations.
It is feared that if other MPs were allowed to inflate mortgage claims, with the authority of the fees office, the problem may be far wider and could lead to widespread criminal action.
Lawyers have given warning that simply because the arrangement was within Parliamentary rules does not mean it is legal.
The arrangements – for which the justification is not clear – came to light in the claims files of Mr Chapman, the Labour MP for Wirral South.
Mr Chapman, who has been a ministerial aide, approached the fees office at the end of 2002 to explain that he was repaying £295,939 of the mortgage on his designated second home in Lambeth, south-east London. This reduced the interest payments – met by the taxpayer – from £1,900 to £400 per month.
“By paying off capital I am forgoing interest and investment opportunities elsewhere,” he told the fees office.
He and an official “thus agreed that the mortgage should remain for ACA (Additional Costs Allowance) purposes at the original amount”.
An email between senior officials within the fees office discusses Mr Chapman’s case and discloses that it is not unique. “… I have heard similar arrangements being agreed to in the past,” one said. “Personally, I do not believe that such an arrangement should ever have been suggested.”
Today, it can also be disclosed that a large number of household items such as sofas and dining tables are being bought for MPs’ second homes, as allowed by the expenses rules, but delivered to their main homes, often hundreds of miles away. The fees office rarely questions the anomaly.
The expenses claims of 137 MPs have now been uncovered as part of the Telegraph’s ongoing investigation. Today’s files disclose:
Madeleine Moon, a Labour MP, had thousands of pounds worth of furniture delivered to Wales while designating a London flat as her second home;
Ed Vaizey, a key Conservative ally of David Cameron, had £2,000 of furniture delivered to his London home when his second home was in Oxfordshire;
Ian McCartney, a former Labour Party chairman, spent £16,000 furnishing and decorating his second home but paid it back after the High Court ruled that expenses claims should be published.
Last night, a Commons spokesman declined to comment on Mr Chapman’s case. However, she said: “In October 2003, there was a tightening of the rules for claiming allowances. This was reflected in the 2004 Green Book.”