At least 32 MPs have been found to be claiming rent for second homes on their expenses while simultaneously letting out property nearby, an investigation reveals.
By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent
10:00PM GMT 18 Nov 2012
The MPs, including former Cabinet ministers, are claiming expenses of up to £20,000 a year each for rent, as well as receiving money from properties that were often bought and refurbished with taxpayer assistance.
Last month it was disclosed that 27 MPs were letting out their second homes while charging the taxpayer for renting another property.
Tonight’s Channel 4’s Dispatches programme found five more — three MPs who were carrying out the practice in London and another two who were renting and letting properties in their constituencies.
The MPs now found to be renting out homes in London are: John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the culture, media and sport committee, the Tory MP Mark Pritchard and John Denham, a former Labour cabinet minister.
Labour’s Michael Meacher was also found by Dispatches to have moved out of his home in Oldham to rent a new property, while Pat McFadden, a Labour former minister, did the same in Wolverhampton.
The rules of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) state that “members of Parliament must not exploit the system for personal financial advantage”.
The MPs insist they have done nothing wrong, and were forced to act by new Ipsa rules banning claims for mortgage interest payments from the end of August.
The full details will be disclosed by the authority today when it publishes names of the landlords of more than 300 MPs, defying the wishes of John Bercow, the Speaker.
Officials from Ipsa have worked through the weekend to get the information published today. Some of the names of the MPs’ landlords have been redacted for security reasons, sources told The Daily Telegraph.
The list will also give the names of another four MPs who are either letting properties to or renting from another MP, that effectively allows them to build up property nest-eggs at taxpayers’ expense.
Last month, it emerged that the Labour MP Kevin Barron was renting a home from his Labour colleague Jon Trickett, while Linda Riordan was found to be renting from her Labour colleague Iain McKenzie.
Tonight’s programme shows that Mr Whittingdale moved out of a flat he had owned for years with a small £160 monthly mortgage and moved into a nearby property, with a far higher rental claim on his expenses.
Ipsa records show that Mr Whittingdale started claiming rent but the amount he is claiming has not yet been disclosed. The average market rent for a one-bedroom flat in the area is nearly £400 a week.
Dispatches also found that Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, has claimed more than £15,000 on his second home — despite a public pledge from David Cameron in 2009 that he would stop. Mr Maude billed the taxpayer for council tax, utility bills, television licence and service charges.
In 2009, at the height of the expenses scandal, Mr Cameron said in a party political broadcast: “Other members of the shadow Cabinet, like Francis Maude and Chris Grayling, will not in future claim anything for their second homes.”
The MPs told Dispatches that they had not done anything wrong and were forced to move by the rule change.
Mr Whittingdale said: “I would have much preferred not to have had to do this, but it is a direct consequence of the change in the rules.
“It has long been my view that the system of allowances is illogical, unnecessarily costly to the taxpayer and anomalous. This is an example of that.
“It would be far simpler, more efficient and cheaper to administer if it were replaced by a simple ‘per diem’ allowance for MPs from out-of-London constituencies.”
Mr Denham stressed he was not benefiting financially from the new arrangement. He said: “I would strongly prefer to revert to the previous arrangement. This was also, of course, very significantly cheaper for the taxpayer. This option does not exist under the Ipsa rules. I have had to let the property in order to maintain mortgage payments on it.”
Mr McFadden said the changes in August had “forced some MPs, including me, into an absurd situation with regard to second homes”.
He said a £15,000 fall in the value of his home in Wolverhampton meant that he was in negative equity. “The rent I receive for this house does not even cover the mortgage interest and insurance so there is no profit to me. Far from making money, renting the house out has cost me money,” he said.
Mr Pritchard said he had not claimed mortgage interest on his home between 2010 and 2012, saving taxpayers £25,000.
Mr Maude’s spokesman said that he had only agreed to stop claiming on his second home for 12 months.
Dispatches — MPs: Are They Still At It? is on Monday at 8pm on Channel 4.