A defensible expenses claim?

In 2006, House of Commons rules were changed to ban MPs from claiming to cover rental costs of any property owned by a company in which the claimant has an interest, because a system in which it's possible for someone to buy a house, rent it to themself and claim the money from the tax-payer is obviously ripe for abuse if that system is available to as dodgy a bunch of people as politicians - it'd be a bit like giving small children the key to a sweetshop and expecting them to regulate their chocolate consumption.

Of course, Acid Rabbi does not for even one moment wish to suggest that anything even remotely similar to the scene depicted above ever happen. After all - you'd use a car, wouldn't you, if you could claim for it on expenses?
(Image by small children, being kept distracted to keep their minds off chocolate for a while.)

Let's have a look at the case of Brian Binley. In addition to being the MP for Northampton South, Mr. Binley is also the chairman of a company called BCC Marketing, a firm which bought a flat near Westminster in 2005 - note that this is before the change mentioned above. Mr. Binley subsequently rented the flat for £1500 per month, which was paid to BCC Marketing by the Commons Fees Office. The change of rules came just two months later, and Mr. Binley was told that his claim would no longer be eligible so that if he chose to continue to living in the flat he would have to pay the rent out of his own pocket - he appealed against this to the Commons Speaker who, then as now (or until the end of today, at any rate) Michael Martin.

Mr. Binley says he did this because he thought it would not be right to break the contract he had with BCC and because he didn't want to move - in any other case, it'd be hard to find fault with the second reason, since we are all entitled to choose our residence according to Article 12 of the Universal Bill of Human Rights, a document ideologically worthy if frequently ignored. (We're possibly infringing a little on his rights here, according to what that same article goes on to say).

The appeal took two and a half years to come to a conclusion and declared that Mr. Binley would in fact have to give up the flat - which he agreed to, and abided by. However, during those two and half years, he continued with his expenses claims; which translates as over £50,000 all paid for by us, the tax-payers. In his defence, Mr. Binley says that he has had to claim around £2000-£3000 extra to pay for his new residence.

So, has he got a point, should he have been allowed to keep on living where he chose to? Only in his private life. By becoming an MP, Mr. Binley agreed to live by Commons rules and although this rule was made after he took up residence in the flat he should have obeyed just as any employee of any other organisation would do. Some commercial firms agree to pay rent for their employees, either temporarily or for the whole of their duration with that firm; and in those cases the employee waives certain rights - such as that to remain in a property, which will then be controlled by the rent-payer, ie; the company. In arranging for the Fees Office to pay his rent, Mr. Binley waived that right.

"I face myself in the mirror every night," says the MP, "I've got no concerns about it at the end of the day."

Should he have been allowed to continue living there because it was cheaper than where he now lives? Again, no. Mr. Binley was not forced to take up residence in a more expensive property and if he's really concerned about costing the tax-payer more (which becomes the crux of his arguement if he's going to try to use the "my old place was cheaper" excuse) then he could have found a cheaper flat. London's a costly place to live, but not all the flats are £1500 per month plus. In fact, since it's only 60 miles from Northampton to London - about an hour on the train and £22.80 for a return ticket so, even if he was to attend on each day Parliament meets (around 165) and bought a ticket each time instead of getting a travel card, he'd have knocked up a total of £3762 a year - he could have commuted with no problems. Plenty of people do.

It looks as though the tax-payer has the right to be concerned, even if Mr. Binley says he isn't. But then, it seems rather as though he probaby doesn't have many concerns over anything other than his own personal enrichment.

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