Region's MPs asked to pay back �100,000

MPs in Suffolk and North Essex have been ordered to repay �100,000 in expenses and second home allowances following the audit of five years of claims.

Graham Dines

MPs in Suffolk and North Essex have been ordered to repay �100,000 in expenses and second home allowances following the audit of five years of claims.

In addition, Labour's East of England minister Barbara Follett has had to hand back �42,000 - the highest of any MP while Tory MPs John Gummer and Bernard Jenkin also have felt the full force of the former Whitehall mandarin appointed to clean up what he described yesterday as a “deeply flawed” system in parliament.

Sir Thomas Legg has looked at expenses claimed since 2005 and has decided that more than 400 MPs should pay back money which he believes should never been allowed.

He has clamped down hard on gardening expenses and other second homes claims including maintenance and cleaning.

Mr Jenkin, MP for Essex North, faced the highest demand, for �64,000 spent renting a property from his sister-in-law.

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Mr Jenkin was among those who successfully challenged Sir Thomas's ruling, with the sum being halved to around �36,000. In the wake of the appeals, the biggest repayment has been asked of Mrs Follett - �42,458 that went on security patrols, telephones, and fine arts insurance.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer has repaid �29,398.46, which covers more than �11,000 in cleaning, �612.81 for repairing a lawn mower, and �17,000 for excess gardening expenses.

Colchester MP Bob Russell - whose personal expenses are among the lowest 10% of all MPs - has said he was “astonished” to be told that he had claimed too much. “I share a small flat with Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock, off the Old Kent Road in South London. Our claims are so low that had we continued to use hotels then it would have cost the public purse �50,000 more over the past five years, but instead of being congratulated for our low claims and value for money we have been told we claimed too much.

“At current levels, staying in a Youth Hostel would cost more. Short of sleeping in the office I do not see how we could get our costs any lower.”

Mr Russell said that he and Mr Hancock had been told that they had over-claimed on mortgage interest and Council Tax - he had therefore paid the �4,539.45p. “I have not knowingly over-claimed, but we are being told that we miscalculated. What is annoying is that when the miscalculation is seemingly in our favour we have to pay back - but when the miscalculation is the other way we are not allowed to offset them. It's just our hard luck.”

He added: “I think what this shows is that the Fees Office did not do its job properly in checking claims from MPs, and auditing procedures did not pick up the mistakes either.

“I want people to know that I am a loser not a winner in all this. I would also observe that whereas millionaires like Tory Leader David Cameron and Cabinet Minister Shaun Woodward have put in housing claims in excess of �20,000 annually, and these are said to be OK, the much more modest claims made by myself and Mr Hancock are deemed to have been too high. It is indeed a funny old world.”

Sir Michael Lord, a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Suffolk Central & Ipswich North, said: “I have been in correspondence with Sir Thomas Legg and received the last letter on January 26 and I have repaid the money requested.

“All my claims were approved by the Fees Office and I have not received the slightest query from its staff or from the Conservative Party.

“Sir Thomas apologised to me for any distress which these matters have caused, He concluded that his decision implied `no reflection on you, your conduct, or your motives.”

Four MPs were given a clean bill of health from Sir Thomas - Labour's Chris Mole (Ipswich) and Tories Tim Yeo (Suffolk South), Brooks Newmark (Braintree) and David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds). Former Harwich MP Ivan Henderson has been told to repay �149.24 for an excess claim for dining room furniture.