“Claims which are the subject of any doubts will be refused..”

Some local party leaders have already agreed to emergency changes to the MPs allowances, although the House is still debating the issue. Those proposals will directly affect two local MPs in particular. And, with a cap of £1,250-a-month cap on rent and mortgage interest payments, they will affect some others as well. From the BBC report

MPs who are couples will be obliged to nominate the same main home and will only be able to claim one person’s accommodation allowance between them
All claims will be published quarterly online
Members will have to be “completely open” with the tax authorities about whether properties are second homes and liable to capital gains tax
With regards to accommodation, only rent, hotel bills, overnight subsistence, mortgage interest, council tax, utility charges and insurance will be allowed

No secret security measures, then?Additionally

Mortgage claims must be accurate, for interest only and on continuing loans
A clear test of “reasonableness” will be applied to all claims by the Department of Resources in an effort to “tighten up” allowances
Claims which are the subject of any doubts will be refused with no opportunity of appeal

And from the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker’s statement [new link]

While the Kelly committee recommendations are awaited, there will be no specific changes to other allowances. The Department of Resources is instructed to tighten up the administration of all claims and apply a clear test of “reasonableness”. If there is any doubt about the eligibility of a claim, it will be refused and there will be no appeal.

In future, all authorised payments will be published online at transaction level on a quarterly basis by the Department of Resources.

All past claims under the former additional costs allowance over the past four years will be examined. This will be carried out by a team with external management; the external manager will be appointed after consultation with the comptroller and auditor general. [added emphasis]

All necessary resources will be made available. The team will look at claims in relation to the rules which existed at the time, and will take account of any issues which arise from that examination which calls into question the original judgment.

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  • Mark

    MP tops ‘other expenses’ list in Westminster
    South Belfast News 20th of May 2009
    by Alana Fearon

    As the MP expenses scandal rumbles on at Westminster, it has been revealed that South Belfast’s only MP is the third highest expense claimer in the north.

    Alasdair McDonnell is currently one of 18 MPs from the north with a seat in the House of Commons and number three on the local highest expenses claimers list.

    In the last three financial years, the SDLP man claimed a total £444,862 in expenses for his role as South Belfast MP, according to the Sunday Times MPs’ expenses list. It also shows that Dr McDonnell claimed £22,000 in “other” costs making him the joint first highest claimer in that category out of all the MPs in Westminster.

    North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds was the highest expenses claimant in the north followed closely by fellow DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

    However figures revealing that Dr McDonnell’s total expenses claims from 2005-2008 amounted to almost £450,000 have caused controversy among the South Belfast-based Northern Ireland Residents’ Coalition.

    The Sunday Times list shows the South Belfast MP claimed a total £156,830 in expenses in the financial year 2007/8 making him the 150th highest expense claimer out of the 646 MPs at Westminster.

    The SDLP MP and MLA claimed £23,083 for his second home allowance, £16, 967 in office expenses, £94,769 in staffing costs – the 56th highest staffing costs in the Commons – and £22,011 in “other” costs. Other costs includes travel, IT, postage and stationary and makes the SDLP MP the joint first highest claimer in that category.

    He also claimed £9,310 for regular journeys between his home, constituency and Westminster and £320 for family travel costs. He claimed no London supplement.

    In previous years he claimed £145,728 and £142,304 in total respectively.

    Stranmillis resident Andrew Charles from the NI Residents Coalition said Dr McDonnell should explain his claims.

    “Despite having two constituency offices, one of which is only open part-time and the main office which is on the same site of his GP surgery, which was recently relocated to a new fancy premises, these costs seem to be on the high side given that he is also an MLA,” he said.

    “The people of South Belfast have a right to ask our MP to stand over these expenses. How can he be the third most expensive MP in NI, and still practice as a part–time GP according to his register of Member’s interests? Dr McDonnell should come clean with the electorate as to his costs and job priority. South Belfast needs a full-time politician.”

    The House of Commons Register of Members’ Interests states that the South Belfast MP is a part-time GP, owns a farm in Co Antrim from which he gets rental income, is paid his MLA salary and has shares in Arrow Travel in Belfast. The register was last updated on May 6 but Alasdair this week denied being a practicing GP.

    Dr McDonnell went on to say that many of Andrew Charles claims were “disingenuous”.

    “I am not a practicing GP, I am a full-time politician working as hard as I can to deliver the best constituency service possible across South Belfast to all of the people of South Belfast.

    “Mr Charles states that some of my rent claim for ‘fancy’ new premises ‘seem to be on the high side. I would ask Mr Charles what qualifies him to make these assertions and query whether he has been inside the constituency office where he is more than welcome to visit.

    “I run two constituency offices across South Belfast and pay for the rent of my main office on the Ormeau Road out of my own pocket. The only thing I don’t pay for out of my own pocket is staffing costs and utility bills.”

    The SDLP man went on to say that his party believed in total transparency, clarity and accountability surrounding MP’s expenses.

    “This is public money for public roles and therefore must be entirely justifiable,” he said.

    “I am on public record for backing calls for the early disclosure of expenses and fully support the planned full publication procedure agreed by parliament and I fully stand by all my expense claims.

    “I am fully committed to the people of South Belfast who I have had the privilege to serve since 2005 as MP. All the expenses I receive are used to provide the highest constituency service to all of the people of South Belfast.”

    He concluded by saying: “One would hope in the interests of all Northern Ireland residents that Mr Charles is asking the same questions of Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson who have both submitted higher claims.

    “Otherwise Northern Ireland residents will be entitled to ask is Mr Charles simply doing the bidding on behalf of his friends in the DUP who are in no position to lecture anyone on the use of public funds.”