Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009

More than 80 MPs challenge expenses repayment demand

Jeremy Browne
Jeremy Browne was the first to signal publicly his intention to appeal

A total of 80 MPs have confirmed they want to challenge an auditor's request that they repay money they claimed on expenses dating back five years.

Lib Dem Jeremy Browne, Labour's Frank Cook, Frank Field and Patrick Hall and Tory Bernard Jenkin are among those contesting Sir Thomas Legg's findings.

Sir Thomas was asked to review all MPs' second home claims since 2004 after the expenses scandal broke in May.

The MPs were told they had to signal an intention to appeal by 1500 GMT.

They must then submit their written appeals by 23 December - which will be examined by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Paul Kennedy.

Fridge claims

Sir Thomas's review has annoyed many MPs who have been asked to repay money for a variety of reasons.

Tory MP for Thanet North, Roger Gale, has appealed against the demand to repay £2,100 for mobile phone bills and £400 in rent for a London flat.

He said Sir Thomas Legg had ignored the justification he gave for the claims, telling the Press Association Sir Thomas was "still knowingly releasing false information. I view that as dishonest.

"Am I angry? Yes, I am. My reputation matters to me. I have been doing this job for 27 years. It has cost us well over a quarter of a million pounds out of our own pocket."

Mr Jenkin, MP for Essex North, has been asked to repay the highest amount known - £63,250 - because he claimed it for rent on a property owned by his sister-in-law.

The rules changed in 2006 to prevent MPs renting from relatives but Mr Jenkin has said he was not informed and says the Commons Fees Office had sanctioned the arrangement.

He has said he will repay the money if the appeals process goes against him.

Bernard Jenkin and Frank Cook
Bernard Jenkin and Frank Cook say they will fight demands for repayment

Labour MP Ann Cryer has told the BBC she will be appealing against her demand for a "substantial amount". She said she had never claimed the maximum amount in second homes allowances.

Ms Cryer, who is reported to have claimed rent on a flat owned by her daughter and is standing down at the next election, said she did "not want to leave with a cloud over my head".

Stockton North MP Mr Cook's request for repayment relates to £600 claims for a fridge.

He says other requests from Sir Thomas that he repay £964 for utility bills have been dropped and he has already repaid £1,019 he over-claimed for council tax.

Mr Browne's case is more complicated. He told the BBC that he was being asked to repay £17,894 because of a "ridiculous application of the rules".

The Lib Dem Treasury spokesman became MP for Taunton in 2005 and raised the deposit to buy a home in the constituency by remortgaging a London flat he had owned for several years.

It meant the mortgage on his London flat increased from £130,000 to £190,000 - he designated the flat as his "second home" and went on to claim expenses on the interest of the £190,000 mortgage.

Remortgage

Sir Thomas said that breached a rule that MPs are not allowed to claim expenses for "interest on any additional mortgages, advances or loans secured on the same property".

He said he should have claimed interest on the £130,000 mortgage and has asked Mr Browne to repay the difference.

Mr Browne says the rule about remortgaging was meant to stop MPs withdrawing the equity on taxpayer-funded properties to "buy a new car, go on holiday or whatever it might be".

But he said the increase in his London flat's value had happened before he became an MP and before he made any expenses claims on the mortgage.

"I don't think that's a reasonable application of the rules and I think the money that accrued to me prior to my election is mine to spend as I see fit," he told the BBC.

He argued that, under Sir Thomas's interpretation of the rules, he could have sold the flat and bought a new one and claimed 100% of the mortgage interest, or claimed for his Taunton home - even though either option would have cost the taxpayer more.

"I think I acted in good faith," he told the BBC.

Mr Field, MP for Birkenhead, is appealing against a ruling that he should repay more than £7,000 in gardening and household bills.

Mr Hall, who represents Bedford and Kempston, is contesting a request that he repay a claim for mortgage interest of £260.

He said: "It is a discrepancy. That is why I am going to the Kennedy review. The sum concerned is small, but it is a matter of principle."

Labour MP Alan Simpson, who previously threatened legal action over the review's demand that he repay £500 in cleaning charges, said he had filed an "objection" but intended to leave it at that rather than formally appeal.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked Sir Thomas to look for mistakes made in expenses claims approved by the Commons Fees Office over five years, when the expenses scandal broke in May.

But Sir Thomas has applied his own limits on what he thinks should have been claimed for gardening and cleaning. Several MPs have been asked to repay the difference - sometimes amounting to thousands of pounds.

Many MPs were unhappy about the "retrospective" nature of the ruling and had been expected to appeal.



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