MPs Face Ban On Second Home Mortgage Claims

(Guardian) – MPS WOULD BE BANNED from employing their family members in the Commons and from receiving taxpayers’ money to pay the mortgage interest on their second homes under proposals expected to be published next week.

Yesterday Sir Christopher Kelly, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, briefed opposition party leaders about the details of his report which said that in future MPs will have to rent, not buy, their second home if they wish to receive taxpayer support.

His briefing confirms previous reports that said Kelly was looking at ‘phasing out’ taxpayer support.

The report is due to be published on 4 November and will cause a furore amongst MPs and especially the 100 or so family members that work for MPs either at Westminster or in their constituencies.

The Unite union, which represents many parliamentary staff, announced yesterday that it was seeking legal advice on whether the ban on family members is lawful.

Many MPs claim it is the only way they can keep their family lives together, but Kelly found that such a practice would never be allowed anywhere else in the public sector.

He also argued that there was no credible way that MPs could actually tell if the taxpayer was receiving value for money from employing a family member as their secretary or researcher.

Kelly is also to make it more difficult for MPs living in the south-east to claim for a second home, so more of them will have to commute to and from parliament. It is possible he will rule that MPs living within a 60-minute commuting radius will not be able to claim for a second home, joining the small group of London MPs that are already banned from receiving a second home allowance.

MPs will argue that sometimes they leave Westminster after 11pm and need to be in the Commons well before 9am.

Previously MPs could claim as much as £24,000 a year in mortgage interest payments on their second home, often allowing them to live in homes which were much larger than they required.

Kelly looked at whether it was possible to require MPs to downsize once their children had left home, but came to the conclusion it was not practical. As a result he has decided that in future MPs should only receive support if they rent a home, giving greater flexibility.

He has tried to sugar the bitter pill for MPs by saying he is willing to give them an interim period of as long as four years, or a full parliament, to sell their second home. He has noted that the Scottish parliament is phasing in similar reforms and it has not yet caused any great problems.

The chairman of the public administration select committee, Tony Wright, praised the proposals, saying they were radical and would need to be implemented in full.

All three main party leaders have said they will back the proposals so long as they contained nothing outrageous, and there were indications last night that the party leaders would accept Kelly’s report.

Kelly took evidence throughout the summer, after being asked by Gordon Brown to conduct an inquiry in the wake of revelations that MPs had been misusing a laxly policed expenses system. He was told that he should ensure that the costs of his proposals were lower than the costs of the current scheme.

MPs have already handed responsibility for setting MPs’ salaries to an independent body.

Labour MP John Mann said parliament had to accept the recommendations ‘lock, stock and barrel’ if it was to regain its ‘moral authority’ after the damage of recent months.

‘We can’t pick and choose which parts of the report we like,’ he said.

‘We have to move decisively, not to quibble about the detail, but to move decisively to endorse the Kelly report, and with urgency.’

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