50+ MPs overclaimed for Council Tax

The Daily Telegraph, which has a full and unredacted version of the expenses published online two days ago (and has thrown caution to the wind by today publishing Cabinet Ministers' expenses with only that information protected by law removed, revealing a great deal more than what Parliament allowed us to see two days ago), says that it has checked through the documents and discovered that more than 50 MPs submitted claims for Council Tax that were in excess of the rate being charged by councils.

Eric Illsley MP: sometimes fails to notice large sums of money appearing as if out of thin air.

Every council provides listed details of how much Council Tax is charged for properties within the area it controls. By comparing these figures to claims made by MPs to cover costs of their second homes, the newspaper has been able to reveal that, amongst others, Eric Illsley (who is also known to have been one of the serial claimants of the maximum £400 per month for food) overclaimed, receiving a total of around £6000 more than he needed. Mr. Illsley seems reluctant to talk about it as he's refused to comment on the matter. Beverley Hughes, who plans to stand down as an MP at the next election - a move she says is unrelated to the £23,083 she claimed for her second home in 2007-08 - has also been named and is said to have received an extra £2000. The ex-Minister of State says that she is checking her records since she is certain the amount cannot be that much. Oh, that's ok then Ms. Hughes. So long as you've only ripped the country off for, say, £1500, we'll overlook it.

David Blunkett, the ex-secretary of various things (Education, Home, Work and Pensions - he can put almost as many titles on his CV as Peter Mandelson), has also become entangled in the row. Mr. Blunkett claims for a second home in Derbyshire's Chatsworth Estate - which seems a little unethical in the first place, since the second homes allowance is intended to cover the cost of maintaining a residence in London to enable the MP to attend Parliament regularly - where he recently had an extension added to the house and, as a result, is charged two sets of Council Tax for which he claims £200 per month. He admits that it is possible that he may have overclaimed by £178 which, unlike those far larger amounts claimed by Mr. Illsley and Ms. Hughes, could just conceivably be put down to genuine error.

Rather oddly, some MPs make a monthly claim for Council Tax twelve times a year, even though - as every Briton subject to the tax knows - the bill is divided into ten instalments. Though this might be put down to reasons of convenience, it could also be viewed as evidence of systematic abuse. 18 of the 50 MPs named have repaid money to the Commons Fees Office which in the case of smaller amounts can be seen as making good past mistakes, but larger sums - such as those claimed by Mr. Illsley and Ms. Hughes - look very much like an implied admission of guilt. After all, though politicians receive a very respectable salary, only the extremely wealthy could persuasively argue that they genuinely failed to notice an extra £6000 in their bank account.

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