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Saturday, June 20, 2009

In which I buy the Daily Telegraph

Sucker as I am for marketing gimmicks I broke the habit of a lifetime this morning and actually bought the Daily Telegraph just so that I could get a copy of their mega 68 page pull-out guide to every MPs allowance claims. My local newsagent even had a sign on the door telling people about the offer, though the anticipated rush to get the information had not materialised.

Thus it was that I read the lead article about the over-claiming of Council Tax with mounting incredulity. It is not that I found it difficult to believe that MPs might act in such a way, we have already established several times over that they do, but that the system that is operated by the House of Commons authorities so blatantly encourages it (not that this is any excuse).

The paper has calculated that MPs over-claimed by comparing their expense claims for council tax with publicly available records on the council tax banding of their designated second home:

In total, more than 50 MPs are thought to have profited from the dubious claims. Eighteen have already privately repaid over-claimed council tax to the Commons fees office, including the Labour MPs Linda Gilroy and Michael Meacher.

Some MPs claim round figures – usually £150 or £200 a month – for council tax; others make 12 monthly claims even though their annual bills are divided into 10 instalments.

Until last year, Parliament only required receipts for expenses of more than £250 per month so many MPs did not bother submitting council tax bills before making claims.

When the rules were changed to require documentation, several MPs reduced their claims and were not questioned over previous council tax payments they had received.

The "phantom" council tax claims will add to the growing concerns over the policing of the parliamentary expenses system.

What sort of professional accounts department operates a system so open to abuse? What sort of person would even put in a claim for the reimbursement of Council Tax without checking it is accurate and without proper documentation?

It seems to me that this was not just abuse on a large scale but that it was actively sanctioned by the system that the Parliamentary authorities put in place. I hope that the Police are going to investigate this as well.
'What sort of person would even put in a claim for the reimbursement of Council Tax without checking it is accurate'

An MP.

Will you be buying the Telegraph again...?
It was a rhetorical question David and did not require what is an obvious answer. No I am unlikely to buy the Telegraph again. It is just not my cup of tea.
I understood it was rhetorical. My answer was for emphasis.

Incidentally, I'm not sure any question you ever ask, Peter, actually *requires* an answer. That's the nature of the Welsh Assembly and the Lib Dems, really, isn't it?
I certainly expect an answer to the vast majority of questions I ask in the Assembly.
I was quite interested in the section pp 34-36 called "who ate all the pies?"

Graham Allen (Lab) claimed £5,200 for food, by far the biggest porker! There were quite a few claims around the £4,000. One which wasn't reported in the Telegraph was the food bill for Elfyn Llwyd (PC), but his claims were reported on page 54 of the Telegraph supplement, namely £4,320.

Peter, I'm surprised "Greenman" hasn't picked up on this
I found that someone was so keen to get a copy of the expenses supplement in Saturdays Telegraph that they took it out of the sealed packet, put it inside a cheaper paper and "purchased"it that way. I of course happened to be the one who actually purchased the copy of the Telegraph minus the supplement as the above person had turned the sealed plastic around so it looked complete. Tesco however changed the paper for me so I eventually had a complete copy! It would seem that some ordinary citizens are finding ways to "bend the rules" at the expense of others!
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