Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 19:12 UK

Blair was chased over unpaid bill

Blairs' unpaid water bill
The reminder is among hundreds of documents released by the Commons

Tony and Cherie Blair were threatened with the bailiffs over an unpaid bill at their constituency home, expenses documents released by the Commons show.

The Blairs got a reminder notice from Northumbrian Water in November 2005, addressed to "Mr C L Blair" for 147.

"Your account may be transferred to a debt recovery agency...We appreciate that you may be experiencing some financial difficulties," it said.

Details of expenses claimed by 14 MPs have been released after an FOI battle.

The claims and receipts, which run to more than 400 pages, were handed out earlier by the Commons authorities.

They include money spent by senior politicians on running their second homes.

Details in two separate receipts from 2003 show the then prime minister Mr Blair spent more than 10,000 on refurbishing the kitchen at Myrobella - his constituency home in County Durham.

'Adverse coverage'

Items included tiling and 1,000 on fitting a mantel shelf to the Aga oven. The Blairs also spent 515 on a new dishwasher for Myrobella.

The documents include a 2004 letter from Lloyds bank about the Blairs new interest-only 297,000 mortgage on Myrobella and a letter from the Commons authority agreeing to pay the monthly interest bill.

Much of the Additional Cost Allowance went on repairing constituency homes - one invoice from 2005 shows Gordon Brown spent 4,471 on renovating his kitchen.

It's clear that this allowance pays for far more than just a base in London - MPs use it to fund a lifestyle far more comfortable than their constituents enjoy
Matthew Elliott
Taxpayers Alliance

Peter Mandelson, then MP for Hartlepool, spent 2,981 on repairs to his constituency home, a receipt from 2003 shows. Receipts also show he spent 100 a month on newspapers and 75 a month on gardening.

Between 2001 and 2003, Margaret Beckett spent 12,170.67 on repairs - but in February 2006 she had her claim for gardening expenses partially rejected - 600 for plants and pergola disallowed.

Other expenditure revealed by the documents includes:

  • Stevenage MP Barbara Follett, the wife of millionaire novelist Ken Follett, claimed more than 1,600 for window cleaning at her London home, with the cleaners visiting on 18 occasions at 94-a-time during 2003-04.
  • Mark Oaten, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman who quit over a sex scandal, claimed 145 for a new bed and 99 for a mattress in January 2006.
  • John Prescott claimed nearly 1,000 for gas and electricity costs for his constituency home in 2005/06 and spent 6,707 on repairs to his home.
  • Mr Brown's claims include a Sky TV subscription and television licence, utility and council tax bills and charges for service, insurance and ground rent on an unspecified property.
  • Barring one small claim for a telephone bill, David Cameron's expenses seem to consist only of claims for mortgage interest on his second home.

The documents also reveal Mr Prescott approached the Commons Department of Finance and Administration for guidance after press stories in 2005 over his decision to treat his grace-and-favour flat in Whitehall's Admiralty House as his main residence, while claiming on council tax and other bills for his constituency home in Hull.

The practice, followed by many government ministers who enjoy free accommodation in London, has been repeatedly questioned on the grounds that the MPs involved do not have to meet the expenses of a second home.

But Mr Prescott was reassured in a phone conversation that it did not breach Commons rules, according to a handwritten note by an official. Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It's clear that this allowance pays for far more than just a base in London - MPs use it to fund a lifestyle far more comfortable than their constituents enjoy."

Home addresses

MPs' expenses are published every year under nine main headings - including the additional costs allowance (ACA) to cover the costs of running a second home.

But for most only the total claimed is published, rather than a detailed breakdown showing what items had been claimed for.

Freedom of Information campaigners argued that the limited nature of checks on claims, many of which did not require a receipt, meant the system was open to abuse and an Information Tribunal agreed it was "deeply unsatisfactory".

Last week the High Court backed the tribunal's ruling that details should be published and on Monday the Commons gave up its legal fight.

A detailed breakdown of the expenses of all MPs dating back to 2004 - likely to run to more than a million items - is due to be released in the autumn and in future the information will be released on a quarterly basis.

Home addresses will be published unless there is a specific concern about individual security - angering some MPs.

There are three addresses which have been blanked out in the material released earlier. The Commons was allowed to do this only in the case of a specific security threat to the individuals involved.

The addresses blanked out are those of Gordon Brown's flat in Westminster, Margaret Beckett's constituency home in Derby, and the central London flat of Labour's Alan and Ann Keen - but their other address in Brentford is revealed.

As well as the Keens' other address, the documentation discloses home addresses at the time for Tony Blair, David Cameron, John Prescott, Mark Oaten, Sir Menzies Campbell, George Osborne and William Hague.

The 14 MPs and former MPs whose detailed expense claims were revealed in the three separate FOI requests were: Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Sir Menzies Campbell, George Osborne, John Prescott, Margaret Beckett, William Hague, Mark Oaten, Peter Mandelson, Barbara Follett, Alan Keen, Ann Keen and John Wilkinson.

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