Mr Harry Cohen - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


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 second home.

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 and services."

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 as follows:

"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 organisation."

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 ACA.

"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 main home."

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 main home;

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


 
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