MPs' credit cards blocked over expenses debts of up to £27,000


More than a dozen MPs have had their Commons credit cards blocked after accumulating expenses debts of up to £27,000.

Five SNP politicians - including Westminster leader Angus Robertson and deputy Stewart Hosie - were among those subject to the temporary action by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).

Four have since repaid sums ranging from £33 to £3,446 in full, according to figures released to the Press Association under Freedom of Information rules.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Ian Paisley was £27,766 in the red when his card was stopped last November, and the deficit was £20,337 by last month.

Natalie McGarry, who has been suspended from the SNP amid allegations over missing donations, owed £2,270 when her card was blocked on January 25.

She had £2,370 outstanding as of February 23. Her office said there had been a "mix up" and the situation had now been "rectified".

A number of the MPs named blamed errors by Ipsa for the problems.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith, former minister Liam Byrne and Labour backbencher Simon Danczuk are on the list, having owed £953, £1,189 and £595 respectively.The amounts have all since been cleared.

Mr Smith's office said: "The overpayment was to the landlord of Mr Smith's constituency office. It was due to Ipsa's administrative system."

Mr Byrne said he was appealing after Ipsa refused to pay for leaflets to let constituents know about surgeries and other events.

"Ipsa is disputing whether they should pay for the invitations to residents' meetings and leaflets with information about my surgeries," he said.

"But I think this is a point of principle."

Labour ex-policy chief Jon Cruddas was subject to action before Christmas over £2,967 of expenses.

Mr Cruddas said he exceeded the printing and postage budget for last year and had now agreed to settle the overspend by April 1.

Tory David Morris's card was suspended in December, when he owed £12,240. He said Ipsa had initially failed to process the transactions properly and later discovered an overspend in office costs of nearly £5,000.

"This overspend happened due to numerous admitted errors by Ipsa with their system, but under the scheme any budget overspends must be personally reimbursed by the member from their own pocket," he said.

"I must stress that these expenses claimed for were all permissible claims and were legitimate office costs incurred by carrying out my parliamentary duties to my constituents."

Ipsa issues MPs with credit cards to pay for a variety of items such as travel, accommodation and stationery.

The politicians then have to prove the spending was allowable within a month, or they build up debts to the watchdog.

The sums are recouped by suspending the cards and not paying out valid expenses claims, or in instalments from the MP's salary.

The latest details date from the end of June, when a previous disclosure sparked a furious row between Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Ipsa about whether his card had been suspended over a £1,000 debt.

Some of the new cases involved disputed claims, with energy select committee chairman Angus MacNeil building up a £950 tab after charging a series of hotel bills for more than £250 a night.

The SNP politician insisted the rooms were the cheapest available, but has now repaid the difference above Ipsa's £150-a-night maximum rate.

Angela Crawley is the only SNP MP listed as having had her card suspended and still being in debt as of last month, owing £2,152.

An SNP spokesman said all the card suspensions had been lifted.

"By its very nature the operation of the expenses system means that Ipsa often owes outstanding amounts to MPs and MPs often owe outstanding amounts to Ipsa. Outstanding amounts are then repaid," a spokesman said.

Ms McGarry's office said her card was currently operational. "There was a mix up in the payment of the deposit for accommodation, but this has since been rectified, and Ipsa are satisfied with the repayment," a spokeswoman said.

Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams had his card suspended over £2,183 of debt in November. He blamed Ipsa's "incompetence" for the issue, saying the watchdog continued paying the rent on a flat for two months after he moved out and then failed to supply his former landlord with a receipt in order to get the money back.

"Eventually Ipsa withdrew my parliamentary credit card, whilst I was trying to pay for parking and buy a train ticket - and catch the train - this without warning me," he said.

The watchdog was challenged about the credit card rules by SNP MP Pete Wishart at a hearing of the Speaker's Committee that oversees it this week.

Mr Wishart complained that having to provide evidence for spending within a month could be "burdensome" and highlighted that new SNP MPs had seen their cards suspended.

"Ipsa had made such a fantastic impression on our new groups of MPs when they were newly elected," he said. "There was goodwill towards Ipsa. Totally gone after that."

But the watchdog's chief executive, Marcial Boo, responded: "I am obviously very sorry that it has cost a lot of goodwill. But it is part of the role that we have to make sure that payments that we make are supported by evidence.

"As soon as MPs provide us with that evidence the card is turned back on again."

He added: "We cannot allow ourselves to be in a position where an MP is making thousands of pounds of payments on a card and failing to give us evidence to support that payment, without taking any action."