Jeremy responds to expenses review recommendations

Monday, 21st December 2009

To: Sir Paul Kennedy

17th December 2009

Dear Sir Paul,

I wish to appeal the conclusion of Sir Thomas Legg in my case, as set out in his letter to me of 7th December 2009, in relation to claims made for mobile telephone calls between September 2005 and March 2009.

You will note that Sir Thomas’ concerns over two of the three matters he raised in his provisional conclusions have been resolved (reference numbers 13388 and 13387) and his provisional conclusion on this remaining matter (reference number 13183) has been modified so that his initial recommendation I should pay back £829.50 has become a recommendation to repay £769.80 in his final letter to me.

The grounds for my appeal against his final conclusion are as follows:

In essence, I maintain that the claims I made which I am being asked to repay, though I concede they were contrary to the letter of the Green Book rules, were a reasonable way of claiming allowable expenses by a different route, and which would have been considerably higher had I taken the course of action that Sir Thomas insists I should have.

The claims in question were for mobile phone calls, which I accept are not prima facie allowable under the Green Book from the Additional Costs Allowance. However, the claims were made in substitution for claims for a landline telephone (which was, of course, fully allowable under the ACA) and they were for considerably less than would have been necessary for a landline. They were made with the agreement of the Fees Office. Sir Thomas has made it clear in describing his approach that he will take no account of advice given by House of Commons Fees Office staff at the time in apparent contravention of the Green Book rules. I submit that this is unreasonable and unfair when considering the behaviour of, in particular, new Members of Parliament who were directed specifically to the Fees Office in relation to any queries they had. Having just been elected in May 2005 as a new Member, I do not consider it unreasonable for me to have sought the Fees Office’s advice as to whether my proposed course of action was acceptable and to have acted on what I was told.

The circumstances were that I rented, from 2005, an unfurnished flat without a landline installed at the property. Before arranging for a landline to be installed, and claiming for the cost of doing so (as I would have been entitled to do under the Green Book rules), I asked the Fees Office whether claiming a small proportion of my mobile phone bill would be acceptable in lieu of claiming for a landline. I was told that it would be.

I have, therefore, claimed £20 for telephone calls from my rented flat for each month that I have been in Westminster. When I moved flats in 2008, I continued with the same practice, as the second flat did not have a landline installed either. I would highlight at this point that there is an inconsistency in Sir Thomas Legg’s approach here. He has concluded that my claims for mobile phone calls were reasonable for an initial 3-month period in 2005, but not when the same circumstances arose in 2008. Had I claimed for a landline from the ACA, it would not be suggested that I make any repayment because I would have been acting entirely in accordance with the provisions of the Green Book. It seems to me, however, that the following extra costs to the taxpayer would then have been incurred and legitimately claimed for:

• a BT connection fee for a new landline of £122.50 in 2005 and again in 2008;

• line rental of £11.50 per month on top of the cost of calls

This comes to an additional £739.50 or a total claim of £1,509 together with the cost of calls over the period 1st September 2005 to 31st March 2009. Therefore, the way I claimed saved the taxpayer a considerable amount of money.

It should also be noted that I could, wholly within the rules, have claimed a larger amount for mobile phone calls from the Incidental Expenses Provision (IEP) each month. I have never claimed for mobile calls under the IEP—even though there was enough headroom in my allowances to permit this.

I am asked, therefore, to make repayment of claims made with the agreement of the Fees Office, and which could have been made quite legitimately by two other routes—either by claiming for a landline at the flat I rented or by claiming under the IEP.

The claims I made were also approximately half as large as a result of the route I did take than they otherwise would have been. I have sought throughout to minimise my claims and far from benefiting by this arrangement at the taxpayers’ expense, I have little doubt that the claims I did make fall some way short of the actual costs involved.

Sir Thomas Legg makes it clear that his remit is limited. He is not able, within the terms of his review, to consider whether it would be fair and equitable for a repayment to be made. I submit that in my case, the repayment he proposes would be neither. Phone calls from an MP’s second home are an allowable expense. Having read the Green Book rules, I sought and obtained permission from those policing the system to act as I did. Had I been instructed to install a landline, I would have done so. If I had, however, my claims would have been double what they were and no repayment would be requested. I suspect that the taxpayer would find it as illogical as I do that, taking into account natural justice, I am to be censored for failing to cost them more.

On this basis, I invite you to find that, in the circumstances of my case, it would not be fair or equitable to require me to make the repayment which Sir Thomas Legg proposes.

Yours sincerely,

JEREMY WRIGHT MP


Updated on Monday, 21st December 2009

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