MP asked to pay back more than �63,000

AN ESSEX MP admitted last night he has been asked to pay back �63,250 of his parliamentary expenses after he “unwittingly” fell foul of House of Commons rules.

Roddy Ashworth

AN ESSEX MP admitted last night he has been asked to pay back �63,250 of his parliamentary expenses after he “unwittingly” fell foul of House of Commons rules.

The amount requested from Bernard Jenkin is the highest to emerge so far in Sir Thomas Legg's clawback of MP's allowances.

Conservative Mr Jenkin, MP for North Essex, fell foul of the regulations about renting second homes when they changed in 2006 to forbid payments to relatives.

Since 2004, Mr Jenkin had been claiming second home allowance to rent a Hatfield Peverel farmhouse belonging to his sister-in-law.

But although Mr Jenkin had specifically raised the issue with officials at the House of Commons Fees Office at the outset of the arrangement, they neglected to tell him when the rules were later changed.

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And he has now been asked to pay back all the rent claimed for the entire five years from 2004 onward - even for the period before the new regulations had been brought in.

Mr Jenkin told the EADT yesterday he had written a letter to appeal against Sir Thomas' decision but stressed that he would comply with whatever the final demand was.

He said: “In my letter I have pointed out that the House of Commons Fees Office was fully aware from the outset that this was a family arrangement.

“I have sent Sir Thomas copies of the letters and emails which show I sought to keep within the letter and the spirit of the rules at all times.

“No question has been raised about my honesty, integrity or openness and I have re-iterated to him that I will pay back whatever is finally recommended at the end of the process.”

Last night senior Tory sources confirmed that Mr Jenkin had the support of leader David Cameron following Sir Thomas's demands.

A highly-placed party member told the EADT: “Nobody believes for a minute Bernard deliberately did anything wrong or was trying to benefit financially

“Unfortunately, however, the rules are the rules and ultimately whatever Sir Thomas decides is final.”

Mr Cameron had already warned his MPs that if they refused to meet Sir Thomas' demands they would be barred from standing as a Conservative candidate in a future election.

Yesterday Matthew Elliot, chief executive of the Taxpayers Alliance, said he sympathised with Mr Jenkin because, unlike other parliamentarians who had used their allowances to pay off mortgages and indulge in expensive renovations and refurbishments, the North Essex MP had not sought to line his or anyone else's pocket.

“At the Taxpayers Alliance we've been campaigning on the whole MPs expenses thing for many, many years.

“But I must say that with the revelations that have come out from Sir Thomas Legg's investigation, I do half feel sorry for some of the MPs because you have people like Bernard Jenkin, and people like Frank Field - who was the saint of the whole expense inquiry - who have had to pay back money.

“Meanwhile, those people who had the huge mortgages, and who were doing all the flipping and other offences, are getting away Scott free.

“I almost feel that either you get everybody to pay back the money or nobody.

“It seems unfair to pick out people such as Bernard Jenkin, because when he set up the agreement with the Fees Office and his wife's sister's property, they were fully aware of it.

“In fact my understanding is the rent was below the market value, so it wasn't a bad deal for taxpayers.

“I do think that he's been slightly hard done-by when other MPs have done far worse and, frankly, got away with it.”