Legal Changes to Parliamentary Expenses

MP ExpensesIn the wake of the Parliamentary Expenses Scandal that has rocked Great Britain this year, many politicians that we gave our trust (and votes) to have been exposed as cheats. They used the existing parliamentary expenses system to claim for some ludicrous and outrageous items. No matter whether it was a 59p tin of dog food or £22,500 for dry rot repairs in a home that conveniently was changed to a second home days before the claim, the British public have taken a stand and shouted for reform; we will no longer stand for our politicians raiding the public purse for extravagances and items that are not relevant to their job.

From the publicity that the scandal has attracted it seems clear that the system was extremely flawed. Politicians had to submit their claims to the Fees Office, whose officers were responsible for deciding whether the claim was approved or not. The tales of the expense claims has shown that there were queries on many of the claims submitted, but they were eventually paid out. This suggests that there were higher powers at work that controlled the Fees Office rather like a puppet. Since the scandal rocked British taxpayers, the Fees Office has been abolished and reform is underway.

This began with the Parliamentary Standards Act (2009), which was somewhat rushed through parliament in July of this year. It was rushed through the system because politicians felt that they needed to respond to the public outcry and wanted to prove that they were doing something about it. The Act essentially led to the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (known as IPSA for short). It could be stated that the IPSA is a replacement for the abolished Fees Office. IPSA are responsible for monitoring and managing the expenses that politicians incur. They are also responsible for maintaining the Register of Member’s Interests (this is where MPs have to declare any gifts or extra income that could affect their actions in Parliament).

Should any queries in relation to any MP’s expenses arise, it is the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that will oversee the investigation from now on. This will be overseen by the Commissioner of Parliamentary Investigations, who is considered part of IPSA. Should any politician be thought to be breaking the financial codes of conduct, then the power given to the Commissioner will be brought into play.

One of the best parts of the introduction of the Parliamentary Standards Act (2009) is the prospect of MPs being punished for providing misleading or false information. Any politician found to be trying to hide or expand their allowance claims could face a fine and/or up to a maximum of 12 months in prison.

It is not yet known what other rules and legislation will come into force due to the Expenses Scandal. The Prime Minister had asked the Common Standards in Public Life Committee to produce a report outlining recommendations for changes in the way the expenses system is run. The Sir Christopher Kelly report has stated that MPs should not be able to flip second homes and should not escape having to pay capital gains tax on their properties. There are also recommendations on MPs being prohibited from employing family members as well as a limit on the amount of mortgage payments made to politicians through the reformed expenses system.

Although the British public would like a quick fix to ensure that politicians are no longer milking the system, it is thought that these latest changes may take up to five years to implement. The main thing to remember is that MPs now know that the British public will not let this daylight robbery happen again, so they should be able to curb their enthusiasm on claiming expenses!