UK Politics

Tory MP Johnny Mercer told to repay £930 in expenses

Johnny Mercer Image copyright PA

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer has been ordered to repay more than £900 after an investigation into his expenses.

MPs' expenses watchdog IPSA examined a complaint that the MP's constituency office phone bills increased from a monthly average of £100 to £660 in March 2016 because of canvassing.

Mr Mercer said the rise was because the phones had been hacked and calls made to an Albanian mobile phone number.

IPSA told him to repay £931.20 but said the breaches were "genuine oversights".

Mr Mercer, the MP for Plymouth Moor View, tweeted: "From a 140-page complaint about me - this (the phone bill) is the only error; I have full confidence in my brilliant office that works so hard for Plymouth."

He has repaid the sum. This included:

  • £466 because of increased phone costs in March 2016 "as a result of Mr Mercer's phone network being hacked"
  • £367.98 for a late claim submission of the April 2016 phone bill, which was not submitted until September 2016
  • £97.22 for a duplicate claim for a phone bill in January 2016

An investigation was launched by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority following complaints by two members of the public in November 2017.

One complainant highlighted increased phone bills for the MP's constituency office in Plymouth in March and April 2016, in the run-up to the May 2016 local elections.

But the IPSA report concluded that canvassing for potential voters was not the reason behind the increase.

It found about 65 calls of between one and 30 minutes to the same Albanian number on 20 March and the early hours on 21 March, costing £466.

The report said there was also a call-out fee in April for technical repairs, adding to the rise in cost.

IPSA said there was no evidence of Mr Mercer having notified the watchdog of the phone hacking, otherwise he could have sought reimbursement.

Other complaints were made, which were not upheld, including the fact that Mr Mercer had registered several domain names, costing £108.

Mr Mercer said he bought the domain names for security and to prevent others using the names to set up duplicate websites.

IPSA said: "It could be argued that this may not be a good use of taxpayers' money, but it is not technically against the scheme."

The cost of £6,000 for Mr Mercer's website was also investigated, with both complainants saying the cost of web design was "excessive".

Mr Mercer said he had considered the market value of the service and "how I could get value for money for the taxpayer".

The complaint was not upheld.

The compliance officer's report concluded that IPSA "remains firmly of the view that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest any of the breaches are anything other than genuine oversights, which could have been avoided with better administration and supervision".

More on this story