MPs accused of abusing their expenses say they were acting within the rules. But what did the rules actually say? Here is what Parliament's Green Book for the period between July 2006 and January 2009, when the rules were tightened up, says about what MPs could - and could not - claim for the cost of running a second home.
"The Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) reimburses Members of Parliament for expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when staying overnight away from their main UK residence (referred to below as their main home) for the purpose of performing Parliamentary duties. This excludes expenses that have been incurred for purely personal or political purposes."
"You must ensure that arrangements for your ACA claims are above reproach and that there can be no grounds for a suggestion of misuse of public money. Members should bear in mind the need to obtain value for money from accommodation, goods or services funded from the allowances."
"You must avoid any arrangement which may give rise to an accusation that you are, or someone close to you is, obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds or that public money is being diverted for the benefit of a political organisation."
"You should avoid purchases which could be seen as extravagant or luxurious."
Who writes the rules on MPs' allowances?
LOCATION OF SECOND HOME
"If your main home is in London you can claim for overnight stays in the constituency. If your main home is neither in London nor the constituency you can choose in which of these areas to claim ACA."
"If you change the location of your main or second home please let us know promptly, as it may affect your ACA claim. For example, if your constituency is outside London and you move your main home from the constituency to London, this will mean that you can no longer claim ACA in London."
EXAMPLES OF ALLOWABLE EXPENDITURE
• Rent - on one additional home in either London or the constituency. (If you claim for a rental deposit you must repay this when the deposit is returned to you)
• Mortgage costs - for one additional home in either London or the constituency. This is limited to the interest paid on repayment or endowment mortgages, legal and other costs associated with obtaining (and selling) that home (eg: stamp duty, valuation fees, conveyance, land searches, removal expenses)
• Increases to mortgage costs (ie: re-mortgaging) to pay for improvements to a property. Interest only will be paid, not capital, on re-mortgages for this purpose
• Increases to mortgage costs to pay for an extension of an existing lease or the purchase of the freehold. Interest only will be paid.
• Hotel expenses - in either London or the constituency. (This may include overnight accommodation and food but no alcohol)
• Other food - reasonable additional costs while you are away from your main home
• Service charges
• council tax
• Telecommunications charges
• white goods
• electrical equipment
• other furnishings
• Maintenance & service agreements
• necessary repairs to make good dilapidations
• buildings and contents
EXPENDITURE NOT ALLOWED
• Living costs for anyone other than yourself
• Repayments of the capital element of your mortgage
• Interest foregone or notional interest on loans
• Payments toward endowment policies & life insurance premiums
• Interest on any additional mortgages, advances or loans secured on the same property unless required for the repair or improvement of that property
• Rental or mortgage costs for any part of your property occupied by a lodger, paying guest etc, unless this is offset against your claim
• Mortgages not taken out with a company subject to regulation by the Financial Services Authority
• Computer equipment or services
• The capital cost of repairs which go beyond making good dilapidations and enhance the property. Please seek advice on what is allowable before committing to building works of any sort
• The costs of leasing accommodation from yourself
• Furnishings or fittings which are antique, luxury or premium grade
• Entertainment or hospitality
• Travel (These costs should be claimed in the usual way)
• Congestion charges
• Any expenses incurred during the dissolution of Parliament
• Mobile phone rental and charges