Absurd rules mean taxpayers are losing out over Parliamentary expenses, West MPs at the centre of a new controversy claimed last night.
Three senior West figures hit back after being named as among 27 MPs who let out properties in London, while claiming public money to rent in the capital.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has banned MPs from claiming mortgage interest repayments, and that came into effect this summer.
They can now only claim expenses for renting, in a move intended to head off criticism after the scandal of three years ago that MPs had used public money to build property empires.
The practice of claiming rent while owning a property does not break any rules, and IPSA also allows four MPs to rent from four other MPs.
Bath Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster, the Communities Minister, told the Daily Press: “I genuinely don’t quite know what the story is. I used to live in a property that I owned in Westminster, and I was able under the previous rules to claim the interest on the mortgage. When IPSA changed the rules I was no longer able to do that so I had to move into rented property, and I could have sold the flat or rented it out. It is mine, I paid for it, and I chose at the bottom of the market to rent it, and that is what I currently do. I may one day sell it, or may carry on renting it out.
“It is an absolute disgrace that we have a system that says Don Foster can’t live in a property he owns, and claim about £400 per month less than he currently claims.
“They changed the rule to make it look supposedly better, but it has cost the taxpayer hundreds of pounds more per MP than it needed to have done just to look good, and I have absolutely no idea what it is I am doing wrong.”
Mr Foster revealed his letting agent originally arranged to rent the flat to another MP, but when he found out he went to see the MP and told him while it was legal, it would not look appropriate.
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, North Somerset Tory MP, who is not in a rental arrangement with another MP, said the “absurd” rules set up in the wake of the expenses scandal were to blame for the row. He had been moved out of the London flat he owns for security reasons when he was made Defence Secretary – he resigned from the job a year ago.
“The options were either to sell it or keep it rented until I was able to move back at a future date.” Dr Fox said he would sell the flat “at some point”.
Former defence minister Sir Nick Harvey, Lib Dem North Devon MP, said: “Due to a change in the expenses rules since the last election, I am no longer able to live in the property in London that I own. Instead I am forced to let it in order to cover the mortgage while renting somewhere else. I do not rent my house to another MP nor rent from an MP.”
Shadow cabinet ministers Andy Burnham and Jim Murphy, former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and Tories Aidan Burley and Philip Davies are among other MPs named as claiming rent while letting out another property.
IPSA insisted that MPs letting out properties was “an issue of their own private financial affairs over which we rightly have no authority.
“We cannot say an MP should not own a property or properties, or restrict what they do with those properties on the open market.”
Whether they should be allowed to rent from other MPs would be considered as part of a regular review of the rules next month.
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “If MPs are again found to have exploited the expenses system, it will be another stain on the reputation of Parliament. It was the cry that ’it’s all within the rules’ combined with attempts to suppress the publication of claims that made the MPs’ expenses crisis three years ago so toxic.