MPs allowances are once more in the spotlight after The Daily Telegraph published details of claims made by Cabinet members. But what can MPs claim for under the current system and how much?
The "additional costs allowance", worth up to £24,006 in 2008/9 for MPs representing seats outside central London, has been targeted by Freedom of Information campaigners who believe it is the expense most open to abuse. Before reforms began last year, MPs could use it to claim any item under £250 without providing receipts - that has been reduced to £25. It is meant to cover extra costs incurred by MPs who have to attend Parliament but also look after people in their constituency. It covers things like mortgage interest payments on second homes and utility bills. There has also been much controversy about outer London MPs claiming for a second home, which in some cases is only a few miles from their first home or - as in the case of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith - claiming their constituency address as their second home. MPs recently voted to ban outer London MPs from claiming second home allowance.
SALARY AND ALLOWANCES
MPs are paid an annual salary of £63,291 and receive allowances for the costs of running an office, having homes both near Westminster and in their constituency, and travelling between both. According to the last figures to be published, in October 2007, the average claimed by each MP was £135,600 a year. They also have a final salary pension scheme and can choose to set contributions at 5.5% of their salary with a current "accrual" rate - the proportion of salary received for each year of service - of 1/60th, at 6% of salary for a 1/50th accrual rate, or 10% of salary for a 1/40th accrual rate.
There is no limit on the amount of travel expenses MPs can claim - but it is subject to certain rules. They can claim business class air fares and first class rail travel for Parliamentary business within the UK and up to three visits a year to European institutions, as well as up to 30 single journeys a year for spouses or children. MPs can also claim for staff travel - up to 24 single journeys a year between Westminster and their constituency. Overall MPs claimed £4.5m in travel expenses in 2006/7.
Drivers can claim 40p a mile for the first 10,000 miles then 25p a mile, cyclists get 20p a mile while motorcyclists can claim 24p a mile. These rates can be claimed for journeys between Westminster, their constituency and their main home.
This is claimed by MPs representing inner London constituencies and is worth up to £2,916. It is due to rise to £7,500 from 1 April 2009, when it will be known as the London Costs Allowance. MPs representing outer London seats can choose to claim this or the additional costs allowance.
INCIDENTAL EXPENSES ALLOWANCE
Worth up to £22,193, this allowance is aimed at costs incurred in the course of an MP's duty - such as accommodation costs, office equipment and supplies.
Worth up to £100,205 a year, this allows MPs to employ staff, but is paid directly to staff by the Commons finance department. There is no ban on MPs employing their spouse or other relative and paying them using the staffing allowance, but MPs now have to declare any relatives employed. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith employs her husband Richard Timney as her aide on a salary that could be as much as £40,000 a year.
CENTRALLY PURCHASED STATIONERY
There is no limit to the amount of stationery an MP can order but it must be used for strictly Parliamentary purposes, such as constituency correspondence.
IT equipment is centrally provided and maintained. The standard package available for MPs is three PCs, printers and scanners worth about £3,000.
WINDING UP ALLOWANCE
Worth a maximum of £40,799, this allowance is paid to cover the costs of any work on Parliamentary business done on behalf of an MP who has died, retired or lost their seat.
Introduced in 2007 it allows claims of up to £10,400 a year "to assist in the work of communicating with the public on parliamentary business". It can be spent on things like regular reports, constituency newsletters, websites and contact cards. It cannot be spent on party political, fundraising or election campaigning.
Paid to MPs who lose their seat or stand down at a general election - it is based on their age and length of service and amounts to between 50% and 100% of their annual salary.