Mr. and Mrs. Expenses face investigation

Ann and Alan Keen found themselves in the news a couple of weeks back when it emerged that Hounslow Council were threatening to take ownership of their Brentford home if the couple - who are both MPs - failed to explain why the property had been left empty for more than seven months (possibly a year, according to some sources). They have since said that it is being renovated - but reports subsequently appeared saying that no work has been carried out on the site for eight months. According to The Guardian, neighbours claim they rarely saw the couple even prior to the date they are claiming work began on the house.

The Keens' "main home," empty for more than seven months, has been taken over by squatters who enjoy the support of many local residents.
Image from The Red Rag.

The house was subsequently taken over by squatters -with the support of many local residents - who hung a large sign reading "reclaiming your taxes" on the front of the building. A number of performing artists, including the well-known and very funny left-wing comedian Mark Thomas, have staged events at the property.

The couple have claimed more than £130,000 over the last four years to cover the costs of their official second home, situated in Westminster. As we are all well aware, the second home allowance is supposed to pay for a home closer to Parliament than an MP's main home (designated as the one at which they spend most nights) so that the MP can attend Commons debates without having to travel large distances daily. Brentford is nine miles away from Westminster - so if the likes of David Howarth and Grant Shapps can travel from their own constituencies of Cambridge and Welwyn Hatfield (50 and 20 miles respectively), what prevents the Keens from travelling such a short distance? I know people who have walked that far to get to work...but I suppose they weren't self-serving, money-grabbing scam artists so they don't count. Mr. Keen claimed £1611 for running a car in 2006-2007, so he wouldn't have had to walk anyway.

So not only is it highly morally questionable whether or not the Keens should have claimed for a second home that - by anyone else's judgement - they had no reasonable need for due to the fact that they were quite literally just down the road from their place of work, they also should not have claimed expenses for that property according to Commons rules because they have evidently been spending most nights there.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards John Lyon appears to agree that it looks rather as though the Keens may have deliberately abused the system. As their constituencies (Brentford and Isleworth is Ann's, Alan represents Feltham and Heston) both fall outside the area designated inner London they are entitled to the second home allowance, no matter how unethical and ridiculous their claiming of it seems. But if the renovation story is true, they should at the very least have informed the Commons Fees Office and kept them up to date with what's going on. Meanwhile, the very fact that Mr. Lyon has agreed to investigate the case is an indication that feels there is sufficient reason to doubt the truth of those claims.

On the 25th of May this year, The Times printed a story revealing that Mrs. Keen had taken out a life insurance policy on her husband for £430,000, and then claimed the £867 monthly payments as part of her expenses which are supposed to cover costs arising directly as a result of a politician's work. Their Westminster flat cost £750,000, so not having to foot the bill for the Brentford house has no doubt been very useful in helping them meet the mortgage repayments. Don't forget that both of them receive the MPs' salary of £64,766 - plus Ann gets another £30,000 or so on top of that because she's also the Under-Secretary of State for Health Services. That title probably refers to the health of the couple's joint bank account - £159,532 is a fairly healthy annual income by anyone's standards. It's certainly enough to expect them to pay their own bills.

Here at Acid Rabbi, we've been trying our hardest to avoid using that ugly term troughers, of which the newspapers (and other bloggers) are so keen, but we really cannot think of a better term for Ann and Alan - or not one that wouldn't get us in trouble for slander, at any rate. While we cannot be certain just yet which property should really have been declared the main home, it is obvious that the Keens' main interest is in lining their own pockets and for that reason they must go.

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