Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Sunday, 22 June 2008 11:55 UK

MP grant 'may replace home cash'

Commons Speaker Michael Martin
Mr Martin is chairing the committee looking at housing allowances

MPs may get an annual housing grant worth 24,000 to replace their current second homes allowance, the Sunday Times has reported.

At present MPs can claim up to 23,000 a year to run a second residence.

The Commons authorities recently lost a long freedom of information battle to keep secret details of how much and what MPs have claimed money for.

A flat grant would mean MPs avoid the scrutiny of submitting receipts. It is one of three options, the paper says.

The Members Estimate Committee of six MPs, chaired by Commons Speaker Michael Martin, will make its recommendations soon.

Attendance incentive

If the committee goes with the flat payment scheme, then the housing grant would be for 40,000 - worth 24,000 after tax - on top of the current 61,820 salary for MPs.

Another alternative would also be to introduce a housing award with a 24,000 ceiling, but calculate individual payments according to an MP's attendance at the Commons.

The third potential solution would be to tighten the scrutiny of the existing system, whereby MPs submit individual receipts to the Commons expenses department before they are reimbursed.

If the flat-grant route is adopted then the typical MP would be 4,500 a year better off.

That is because the current average claim under the existing system of "additional costs allowance" (ACA) is 19,500.

The committee's recommendations will be published soon and debated and voted on in the House of Commons on 3 July.

A Freedom of Information request forced the Commons Commission earlier this year to reveal the additional cost allowances claimed by six MPs in 2003/04.

Kitchen claim

MPs' expenses were criticised earlier this year when the so-called "John Lewis list" of household items that MPs can purchase was published.

Under the ACA system, not only can MPs use the 23,000 limit to claim expenses towards paying the mortgage or rent on second flats or houses, but they can also use it to claim towards the costs of upkeep and refurbishment.

When the Commons was forced to disclose the cash limits for these other expenses, the list was found to include allowances for items such as 10,000 towards a kitchens and 6,000 towards a bathroom.

The current allowance system also allows for MPs to spend 400 a month on shopping without receipts.

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