Once again MPs’ expenses have been deemed a disgrace, scandalous and so on. The Archbishop of Canterbury has ‘warned that a “culture of abuse” had developed in Westminster, claiming MPs only had themselves to blame’ (Guardian). Today’s Guardian also had experts deciding whether MPs’ claims were ethical, as every MP accused of having their snout in the trough has pointed out that what they have been doing is legal.
Of course, one of the main issues that arises in MPs allowances is that of the ‘second home’*. The good thing about this is that it has an exact parallel in the rules for everyone else, in the law covering council tax.
It seems that the rules for distinguishing between the main home and second home are fairly lax for MPs. In the 2006 rulebook it said:
‘The location of your main home will normally be a matter of fact. If you have more than one home, your main home will normally be the one where you spend more nights than any other. If there is any doubt about which is your main home, please consult the Department of Finance and Administration.’ (Green Book 2006)
The ‘normally’ suggests individuals can swing it the other way, if they have a convincing case. The later version is even more lax:
Main home is the term used in the Green Book for the term “only or main residence” as used in the applicable Resolutions of the House and the relevant legal provisions. It is for a Member to determine where his or her main home is based on his or her circumstances. It must be in the UK. (Green Book 2009)
A member can determine where his or her main home is!!! Now let’s look at the situation for the council tax, which almost all of us pay. For this, it’s up to the local authority to determine the ‘main home’.
We have to establish the facts as far as possible and make a decision. This may involve asking personal questions about your relationships and lifestyle and we are sorry if this offends you. Documentary evidence may also be asked for.
[Long absence for work]…the Courts have decided that in such situations the time spent away from your main residence is largely irrelevant and that your main residence is where you ‘intend to return’ & ‘where you would live if not for the demands of your work’. This is generally where your partner and children (if any) live.(Thurrock council)
This should actually be quite simple, but might need checking after the fact. If someone lives in London, continues to live in London while an MP for Stoke, and continues to live in London after being an MP, then the Stoke home is their second home. If someone lives in Leeds, becomes the MP for Leeds, and stays living in Leeds when they give up being an MP, then any London place is a second home. Of course, people might move their family in the meantime, changing the main home, and this would require documentary evidence. Perhaps this should be for the courts to decide in the event of a dispute, just as it is if people dispute their council tax. ‘This may involve asking personal questions about your relationships and lifestyle and we are sorry if this offends you.’ Surely if one makes the rules, one should abide by them.
*For now I’ll ignore the fact that MPs are claiming for food and other stuff that they’d have to buy whether or not they were working. Something that isn’t allowed in any other job.