Members of Parliament have been made to pay back nearly £390,000 in ‘profits’ judged by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to have been made on taxpayer-funded homes – with one highly-notable exception.
In total, 71 MPs have repaid cash claimed on mortgage interest payments between 2010 and 2012.
The highest amount repaid was £81,446, by Conservative David Jones. He had only claimed around £18,061 but the amount he had to repay depended not only on how much he had claimed, but how much the value of his property had risen.
Changes to the system after the expenses scandal meant new MPs could not claim expenses towards the cost of mortgage interest payments on their second homes. Those who had already bought properties under the old system were allowed to continue claiming until August last year, if they agreed to repay a share of any profit made over that period.
This leads us to the worst offender we know, and the reason he does not appear on this list.
We know that George Osborne falsely claimed mortgage interest on a farmhouse, a neighbouring paddock, and other land in his Tatton constituency as an allowable expense, stating that he needed the house to perform his duties as an MP. Taxpayers’ money paid the interest on the paddock and the other land, even though they were registered separately with the Land Registry and went unmentioned in his expenses claim.
Between 2003 and 2009, he claimed up to £100,000 in expenses on the building (and the two pieces of land, even though they went unmentioned on his claim), which he had bought for £455,000 in 2000. A 2005 re-mortgage allowed him to increase the value to £480,000 and add the initial purchase costs and £10,000 for repairs to the interest-only arrangement; all the money came from the taxpayer.
Osborne stopped claiming in 2009. This is why he cannot be included among the MPs being asked to refund the taxpayer. When the Standards Commissioner examined Osborne’s expenses claims in 2010, he was ordered to pay £1,936 – a derisory amount that mocks the taxpayers who stumped up the cash.
Osborne sold the farmhouse and land in 2011, for an amount believed to be around £1 million. He pocketed all the money and did not repay a single penny that he had taken from the taxpayer.
Considering the amounts these 71 MPs have had to pay back – and especially considering the amounts paid by those whose property (like Osborne’s) increased in value – one might consider him to have made a very canny decision to stop claiming when he did. Bear in mind that it was an interest-only mortgage, so it would not have been paid off when he stopped claiming.
He played the system, using taxpayers’ money to make himself £1 million. He also committed fraud, or at least false accounting, in failing to declare that he was also claiming for two extra pieces of land that would have invalidated the claim altogether, as they were not used for Parliamentary purposes.
While he keeps the money, those MPs who have paid back huge amounts – including prominent cabinet members like Kenneth Clarke and Philip Hammond – have a right to feel that the system has discriminated against them.
I bet they don’t do anything about it.