Page last updated at 19:04 GMT, Thursday, 13 March 2008

MPs' 10,000 kitchens on expenses

MPs in the Commons
MPs claimed nearly 11.5m in additional costs allowances last year

MPs are allowed to claim expenses of up to £10,000 for a new kitchen, £2,000 for furniture and £750 for a TV or stereo for their second homes.

Other claims allowable include £6,335 for a new bathroom, £299.99 for air conditioning units, £300 per rug, £50 for a shredder and £1,000 for a bed.

The figures are in the so-called "John Lewis list" used by Commons officials to list maximum amounts for items.

Most MPs can claim items from the list up to a maximum of £23,000 a year.

The existence of the list - based on prices at the John Lewis store "because it was highly rated by Which magazine" - came to light during a recent information tribunal.

'Going rate'

It is used by Commons validation clerks for the Additional Costs Allowance but had not been made available to MPs.

Commons resources chief Andrew Walker explained he was reluctant to publish it because if MPs saw what the maximum price allowed for items was, it would "become the going rate".

New kitchen: £10,000
New bathroom: £6,335
Washing machine: £350
Flooring: £35 per square metre

But on Thursday the list was published, following a Freedom of Information request by the Press Association.

Limits include £1,000 for a bed, £600 for a dining table, £550 for a fridge-freezer and £200 for a blender.

Dry cleaning for both clothes and household items is permitted "within reasonable limits" but "antique, luxury or premium-grade" furnishings are not allowed, nor are "extravagant or luxurious" items.

Mortgage interest

The information tribunal has ordered the Commons to produce a detailed breakdown of claims under the Additional Costs Allowance - which can be claimed by all MPs who do not represent an inner London constituency.

It followed a three-year Freedom of Information battle by two journalists and a campaigner, who wanted to see more details of what was being claimed.

Rangemaster stove
MPs can claim up to 10,000 for a new kitchen

The tribunal heard that MPs claim ACA to cover the costs of staying overnight away from their main home, including rent, hotel bills and mortgage interest payments.

Each MP can claim about £23,000 a year and can submit claims of up to £400 a month for food, without a receipt.

They have been able to claim up to £250 per item without receipts - but that is to be scaled down to £25 from 1 April, as part of the continuing review into the wider system of MPs' expenses by the Commons Members Estimate Committee.

'Hardly cheap'

That review, set up following revelations that Tory MP Derek Conway had made payments worth £40,000 to his son for work as a parliamentary researcher while he was a student, is due to be completed by July.

In its interim report, the committee said it would look at "radical options" for creating "a robust and transparent process for claiming allowances and auditing them".

Asked about the list, Matthew Elliott, of the Tax Payers' Alliance pressure group, said: "John Lewis is a fine store, but it is hardly the cheapest place to purchase household goods."

And Labour MP David Winnick said the Members' Estimate Committee to look at the "John Lewis list" as part of its review, adding: "It does look rather expensive for a number of items and obviously the public will say 'Why should John Lewis be the benchmark?"'

Here are some of your comments:

This really has to stop. There should be no expenses for MPs, but they should be provided with standard hall of residence accommodation should they choose to use it. These people are supposed to be representing us, not fleecing us.
Roy, UK

These guys, for the most part, work their socks off. If they didn't dedicate their lives to public service we wouldn't stand a chance of attracting them on what, by most London standards, is a pretty ordinary salary. I don't like cynical exploitation of expenses any more than the next person, but this is starting to look like an emotional campaign against fine and dedicated professionals.
Tom, Coventry

I am very rarely lost for words but I am speechless. I have two jobs and raise my son on my own. The only time I get to myself is when I am sleeping, and we are struggling financially. To then read that MPs can claim up to £400 for food in addition to all this other stuff is adding insult to injury. Wouldn't they have to eat wherever they are? How the hell can this be acceptable? Not just the food but any of it?
Sue, Canterbury

MPs are paid a middle manager's salary for a job which, if it is done well, is among the most important in the UK. Maybe not every MP is a good parliamentarian, but I suspect that most work very hard for their constituents. And part of the price is never being able to be a private person. Even the smallest transgression is likely to be reported. If we want to take away all these ridiculous allowances, we should just pay them properly.
Alan, Conwy

Surely it would be more economical to rent a property, even in London. Or even for Parliament to own homes as a whole and MPs could then be allowed to live in them rent-free rather than this ridiculous waste of money. As for the £400 per month food bills, I have to feed my family of three on less than £200 per month - and I don't shop in the cheapest supermarkets either.
S Bond, Sheffield

As a serving member of the armed forces, I find this disgraceful, but not surprising. When I am posted away from my family, within the UK, I have the choice of married quarters or living on the base in military accommodation and commuting. Neither of these need description after recent press. I could also buy a second home. However, I would receive no allowances from the MOD whatsoever. I receive a pathetic £140 a year tax allowance for dry cleaning and uniform cleaning. I have been doing this for over 23 years now, how many MPs are in position for that long?
Sam, Cornwall

This is utterly disgraceful. These people can claim an amount that most people in this country can't even earn. If they need somewhere to live when in London, then the nation should build something along the lines of a Travel Inn and each MP could be allocated a room for the duration of his tenure.
Ed, Northumberland

I am happy with these allowances, so long as they are no longer paid a wage. I can't see why they need both.
Chris, Newcastle

Becoming an MP now is just like being given a licence to print money.
Ian, Orpington

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