6. Letter to Mr Harry Cohen MP from
the Commissioner, 2 April 2009|
I would welcome your help on a complaint I have received
about your claims against the Additional Costs Allowance for a
I attach a copy of the complainant's letter of 29
March together with his enclosures. I attach also an online copy
of the relevant part of the Mail
on Sunday article of 29 March to which
the complainant refers.
In essence, the complaint is that you have wrongly
identified your main home for the purposes of your claims against
the Additional Costs Allowance, contrary to the rules of the House.
The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament provides
in paragraph 14 as follows:
"Members shall at all times ensure that their
use of expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided
from the public purse is strictly in accordance with the rules
laid down on these matters, and that they observe any limits placed
by the House on the use of such expenses, allowances, facilities
The Green Book on Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances
and Pensions published in July 2006 (the publication which is
likely to apply to your claims) provides in Section three the
rules in respect of the Additional Costs Allowance. Section 3.1.1
sets out the scope of the allowance as follows:
"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."
This paragraph has been included in successive Green
Books since June 2003.
Paragraph 3.2.1 sets out eligibility:
"You can claim ACA if:
a You have stayed overnight in the UK away from
your only or main home, and
b This was for the purpose of performing your
Parliamentary duties, and
c You have necessarily incurred additional costs
in so doing, and
d You represent a constituency in outer London
or outside London.
Paragraph 3.3.1 sets out the principles of this allowance
"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."
and in 3.3.2:
"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
Section 3.4.1 identifies the location of overnight
stays as follows:
"If your main home is in the constituency,
you can claim ACA for overnight stays in London - or in another
part of the constituency if reasonably necessary in view of the
distance from your only or main home. Please contact the Department
of Finance and Administration for information on such arrangements.
"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
"If on your journey to London or your main
home you cannot practicably reach your destination on the same
day as your day of departure, you may claim the cost of an overnight
stay en route to your destination. Any such arrangements must
be cleared in advance with the Department of Finance and Administration.
"See section 3.10.1. for definition of your
Section 3.11.1 provides the definition of the main
home is as follows:
"When you enter Parliament we will ask you
to give the address of your main UK home on form ACA1 for the
purposes of ACA and travel entitlements. Members are expected
to locate their main homes in the UK. It is your responsibility
to tell us if your main home changes. This will remain your main
home unless you tell us otherwise.
"The location of your main home will normally
be a matter of fact. If you have more than one home, your main
home will normally be the one where you spend more nights than
any other. If there is any doubt about which is your main home,
please consult the Department of Finance and Administration."
I would welcome your comments on this complaint in
the light of this summary of the relevant rules. In particular
it would be helpful if you could confirm:
1. that the location of your main home is, as reported,
your property in Colchester;
2. the reasons you identified this property as your
3. according to your best estimates, how many nights
you have spent in your main home, how many nights you have spent
in your constituency home, and how many nights you have spent
elsewhere in each of the last seven financial years. (I do appreciate
that it might not be possible to provide reliable figures going
that far back, but if that is not possible, please provide as
much information as you can.)
4. what advice, if any, you have taken from the House
authorities about these arrangements.
Any other comments you would wish to make to help
with my inquiry, would of course be very welcome.
In respect of the complainant's comments about a
possible criminal offence, I have informed him that I follow the
arrangements set out in the Eighth Report of the Standards and
Privileges Committee for session 2007-08.
I attach a note setting out the procedure I follow.
I have written to the complainant to let him know that I have
accepted his complaint and am writing to you about it.
It would be very helpful if you could let me have
a response to this letter within the next four weeks. If there
is any difficulty about this, or you would like a word on any
matter arising from the complaint, please contact me at the House.
I would be very grateful for your help on this matter.
2 April 2009