MPs’ office expenses are hiked by £10,000 to cover ‘costs of working from home’ during coronavirus crisis
- Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority issued coronavirus guidance
- New guidance offers MPs an extra £10,000 to help pay for working from home
- The watchdog has also relaxed the rules relating to the payment of expenses
- Critics concerned by ‘crude’ approach adopted by IPSA amid fears of abuse
MPs have been offered an extra £10,000 to cover the cost of working from home for them and their staff during the coronavirus crisis.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has issued updated guidance which states every MP can access the additional cash to boost their office costs budget to pay for things like laptops for staff and electricity.
Meanwhile, the monthly credit limit for MPs has been increased to £10,000, a 90 day limit on expenses claims has been suspended and rules on the evidence needed for costs to be reimbursed have been relaxed.
The move by the expenses watchdog has been described as ‘crude’ by critics amid concerns that the updated system and extra cash could be open to abuse.
Parliament is currently in recess and is not due to return until April 21. However, the expectation is that the House of Commons will sit ‘virtually’ when it does resume.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has updated guidance for MPs, offering them an extra £10,000 for office costs during the coronavirus crisis
IPSA issued the updated guidance to MPs on March 19 and said: ‘IPSA’s Board met yesterday to discuss how we can support you and your staff during the UK’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
‘We have agreed a series of immediate measures that we hope will provide you with the resources and flexibility to concentrate on your parliamentary duties and support your staff at this time. ‘
Top of the list of the new measures was the uplift in cash available to pay for office costs.
The extra £10,000 is on top of the ordinary annual office budget for each MP of up to £26,050. The additional cash will be available until March next year.
The guidance said: ‘There will be an immediate increase of £10,000 to your office costs budget.
‘This is to cover any additional costs you may incur to set up working remotely as a result of coronavirus. This extra budget will be available until March 2021.’
Meanwhile, IPSA has also decided to increase every MP’s monthly credit limit to £10,000 ‘to help with cash flow’.
The watchdog urged MPs to make ‘reasonable efforts to reconcile the payment card as normal’. However, it has given them more flexibility so that late payments will be excused.
The guidance said: ‘If you haven’t reconciled by the deadline, we will contact you. For the time being we will not suspend any payment cards if you cannot reconcile on time.’
A 90 day limit on expenses claims has been suspended, relating to the period starting on January 1 this year.
‘This means that claims will not be returned on the basis that they are outside of the 90-day period,’ the guidance said.
Rules on the evidence needed in order for costs to be reimbursed are also being relaxed.
IPSA said: ‘If you do not have access to a receipt or invoice, but cannot wait for reimbursement, we will pay claims without evidence and ask you to send in the evidence as soon as you can.’
Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, told The Times that the way forward adopted by IPSA was ‘very crude’.
‘I think the public may be slightly puzzled as to why what looks like a generous payment of this nature has been made without first doing a bit more research into what the actual costs are,’ he said.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance group urged MPs to use the cash ‘properly and avoid it being seen as a personal equipment slush fund’.