Page last updated at 17:57 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Five MPs' expenses appeals are dismissed

Houses of Parliament
MPs have been asked to repay more than 1m in expenses claims

Five MPs have had their appeals against a ruling ordering the repayment of some of their expenses' claims rejected.

The ruling, following Sir Thomas Legg's audit, angered some MPs because it set limits on claims for services and told them to pay back the difference.

Tory Liam Fox - who has already repaid the £22,476 requested - and Labour's Shahid Malik had appeals rejected.

But nine other MPs, including ex-cabinet minister Geoff Hoon, had calls for repayments overturned or reduced.

Sir Thomas was asked by Gordon Brown to go through five years of expenses claims under the second homes allowance last year - in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal.

Discredited system

But there was uproar when Sir Thomas highlighted not only sums wrongly paid-out because of inaccuracies, but also said some MPs should not have claimed so much in the first place for services like cleaning and gardening.

The Commons' ruling Members' Estimate Committee allowed appeals against Sir Thomas's requests, heard by Judge Sir Paul Kennedy.

In February, MPs were told to pay back a total of £1.12m ruled to have been wrongly claimed under the old, discredited, expenses system.

While out of pocket as a result, I feel vindicated that I acted at all times in good faith
Liam Fox

On Tuesday, the committee published the final results of late appeals by 14 MPs - some of whom said they had not received letters from Sir Thomas, or received them too late to respond in time.

Five of the appeals were dismissed, five were allowed in full and four reduced the amount MPs were asked to repay.

Some of those told they would not have to repay the money had failed to supply proof of mortgage payments on time to the audit, but were able to supply them to Sir Paul.

Dr Fox had already repaid £22,476 paid out in mortgage interest - which related to him having increased his mortgage on his second home, something that was not allowed under the rules at the time.

TV claim

The Woodspring MP argued he had spent the money on refurbishing the property, and could have made claims for the work separately - but Sir Paul ruled "what you claimed was not recoverable under the rules then in force".

Dr Fox said he had "immediately repaid the money as I never wanted to have any funds I was not entitled to".

APPEALS ALLOWED IN FULL
Paul Clark
Geoff Hoon
George Mudie
Alison Seabeck
Andrew Tyrie

He added: "I am delighted that Sir Paul Kennedy has acknowledged that had the Fees Office rejected this at the outset, I would have been able to claim directly for work carried out on my property.

"While out of pocket as a result, I feel vindicated that I acted at all times in good faith."

Mr Malik's appeal related to a £1,050 claim for a TV and a £730 claim for an armchair - which exceeded the "guideline price" of what MPs were allowed to claim, as well as a separate issue of overpaid council tax claims.

Sir Paul told the minister and Dewsbury MP, who had argued he did not know there was a guideline price and it had been approved at the time, he did not find his references to "what you believe to be the guide price for a suite" to be "persuasive".

"Anyone required to decide what it would have been reasonable for the public to pay to provide you with furniture has to draw a line somewhere," Sir Paul said, adding the same argument went for the DVD player and TV.

Mr Malik has already repaid £1,304.43 and has only £36.14 left to repay.

His spokesman said: "Mr Malik's repayments are less than half the average repayment for MPs and he himself voluntarily paid back in July last year before any audit.

"The parliamentary authorities have also accepted that he made no financial gain and was indeed underpaid by over £2,500 in mortgage interest but despite this he has no intention of attempting to claim that money back."

'Sorry saga'

Other MPs who had appeals rejected were Roger Casale, Chris Pond and Betty Williams.

Six MPs had their appeals upheld in full and a further four - John Lyons, Denis MacShane, Alan Simpson and Derek Wyatt - had their sums requested reduced by sums ranging from £121 to £7,866.

Sir Stuart Bell, who sits on the Members Estimate Committee, told the BBC that Sir Paul's ruling meant the "sorry saga" of MPs' expenses had "come to an end".

"The final appeals have been heard, the final judgements have been given, every member of Parliament who has been demanded to repay sums to the taxpayer has agreed to repay... Every penny will be paid back by 31 July."

A new system of expenses is still being considered by the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, set up in the wake of the expenses saga.

An independent inquiry last year recommended the second homes allowance be drastically scaled back so MPs would no longer be able to buy homes at public expense and would instead claim towards rent.



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