UK Politics

Expense fraud MP Eric Illsley had second highest claims

Eric Illsley
Image caption Eric Illsley was jailed in February and released in May

A former Labour MP, jailed in February for expenses fraud, had the second highest amount of claims in the past year, according to new figures.

Eric Illsley, now released and serving his sentence on home detention curfew, claimed £151,245 in 2010-11 - £38,690 of which was for "winding-up" costs.

Labour MP David Lammy received the highest amount - £173,922 - the bulk of which was spent on staff costs.

In total MPs claimed £70.6m - down from £98m under the old scheme in 2009-10.

As well as accommodation claims, the figures also include staff salaries and contributions to their pensions, travel costs - which for MPs whose constituencies are far from Westminster will be higher - and the cost of running a constituency office.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has published the year's total claims on its website.

Illsley pleaded guilty to expenses fraud on 11 January but did not step down as MP for Barnsley Central until 8 February - two days before he was jailed.

His total claims were boosted by his winding-up allowance - paid to MPs who step down to cover staff and office costs.

Labour's Phil Woolas, who lost his seat when a specially convened election court ruled he had breached the Representation of the People Act during the 2010 general election campaign, also received a £37,572 allowance to wind up his office costs.

Tottenham MP Mr Lammy is not entitled to claim for accommodation costs, as his seat is in London, and has relatively low claims for travel.

But he received £154,681 for staff costs, which is above the limit of £109,000. MPs can claim extra from a contingency fund if the request is judged to be reasonable.

Mr Lammy said: "These are the costs of running my office, the most deprived constituency in London, with the highest unemployment and a significant case load regarding immigration, housing, benefits claims and other serious issues, needs a qualified staff and two busy offices.

"It would be impossible to answer the thousands of calls, e-mails and letters I receive every week without suitable offices and dedicated staff."

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said Mr Lammy employed the full time equivalent of one and a half people in his office exclusively to deal with immigration. His costs increased because for six months last year one member of his staff was on maternity leave.

Expenses scandal

The figures show nine MPs were allowed to exceed the £109,548 staffing limit for the last financial year - Conservative MP Adam Afriyie, who chairs an MPs expenses committee, said "serious questions" needed to be asked, as MPs wanted to ensure taxpayers were getting "value for money".

And 250 MPs were given expenses advances of up to £4,000, which must be repaid by the end of the Parliament.

The figures detail claims under the new, independently regulated, expenses scheme which came into force after the general election. It was created to replace the former, Commons-run scheme, which was widely criticised following the 2009 MPs' expenses scandal.

The National Audit Office has said that some of the overall drop in claims from last year would be due to delays in new MPs appointing staff after last year's general election but it appears that accommodation claims have dropped by 27%.

Some temporary restrictions were already in force in 2009-10 but the new scheme is less generous - with MPs no longer able to buy taxpayer-subsidised second homes, tighter rules on who can claim for accommodation and lower limits on other allowances - the £10,000-a-year communications allowance was also axed.

In a recent National Audit Office report, the vast majority of MPs surveyed complained that they were now effectively subsidising costs from their own pockets.

The MP who received the least in 2010-11 was Labour's Dan Jarvis - on just £520. The Barnsley Central MP was elected in March in a by-election to replace Illsley, so has not served a full year as an MP. The second lowest-claiming MP was the Conservative MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone, on £7,433.

Prime Minister David Cameron claimed £106,056 in total. He did not claim for accommodation or his constituency office costs, but claimed £101,977 for staff.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg claimed £110,878 in total while Labour MP Ed Miliband claimed £74,357. In both cases the bulk of claims was also for staff costs.

The information also shows 137 MPs employed spouses, partners and family members at public expense. Sir Peter Soulsby employed three - his wife and two daughters. Sir Peter stepped down as MP for Leicester South in March to run as the city's first elected mayor.

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