MPs are embroiled in a new expenses row after it emerged that 27 are letting out London homes at the same time as claiming public money to rent in the city.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox, shadow ministers Andy Burnham, Jim Murphy and Chris Bryant, and Communities Minister Don Foster are among those listed as raking in income from properties while receiving up to £20,000 a year in expenses. Although the practice does not break any rules, it will fuel concerns that politicians are still able to profit from Commons allowances.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority's (Ipsa) blanket ban on MPs claiming mortgage interest came into effect this summer. They are now only permitted to receive expenses for renting.
The move was intended to head off criticism after the scandal three years ago showed politicians had been using public money to build up property portfolios. However, it also appears to have created an incentive for many to vacate homes they own.
Research by the Daily Telegraph identified Tory MPs David Amess and Peter Luff, and Liberal Democrat ex-defence minister Nick Harvey among those letting out properties in the capital while also claiming expenses for renting. The names could only be deduced because Ipsa released partial postcodes of taxpayer-funded second homes - which could then be cross-referenced with the parliamentary register of interests.
The disclosure followed linked concerns that MPs are able to exploit a "loophole" in the rules to rent properties to colleagues, who then claim the costs on expenses. It is understood that four MPs are currently renting from four other MPs - although there are no cases of home "swaps".
Linda Riordan, the Labour MP for Halifax, lets her London flat to fellow Labour MP Iain McKenzie for £18,720 a year, according to the Daily Mail. Mr McKenzie told the paper: "If I had known beforehand that the flat was owned by an MP then I probably wouldn't have taken it. You've got to apply the test of how it looks to the man in the street, regardless of whether it's above board or not."
Commons Speaker John Bercow was accused of trying to suppress details of the matter after warning Ipsa that revealing the identities of politicians' landlords would be a "security risk".
The watchdog had been due to disclose the material in response to another Freedom of Information (FOI) request. However, the process has now been put on hold in the wake of Mr Bercow's intervention.
In a letter to Ipsa, Mr Bercow insisted there was a "very real danger" that MPs' residential addresses could be discovered as a result of the planned publication. Responding to the Speaker's letter, Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of Ipsa, insisted the authority "would not, under any circumstances, release the full address" of an MP.
Five biggest taxpayer stings
27 MPs let homes and claim rent
Most recently HM Revenue & Customs let Vodafone off the hook - for quite a sum. Vodafone paid out just £1.25 billion despite an original tax bill being closer to £8 billion (HMRC has always refused to reveal how much it thought the Vodafone final bill was). The episode was made even more shaming and painful because Vodafone was given several years to come good with the cash owed - even though it was sitting on a substantial cash pile at the time.
The Exchequer is estimated to have lost around £10 million to Goldman Sachs recently through an 'error' made by HMRC. The episode relates to an employee benefit trust run by Goldman allowing employees to take non-repayable loans that had no National Insurance contributions tied to them. HMRC did claw back the full amount from more than 20 businesses - but not Goldman. HMRC remains cagey about the details of the deal. Little HMRC accountability or transparency.
Huge problems with QinetiQ, the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, or DERA. A lack of clarity on contractual arrangements at the outset didn't help, allowing private equity company Carlyle to hammer the price down (why would you start negotiations when you didn't know the company's true value?). The Ministry of Defence behaved, it was said, like "an innocent at a table of card-sharps". Estimated cost to the taxpayer - £90 million. Huge sums were later made by QinetiQ management when the company listed.
The TaxPayers' Alliances estimates £2.7bn worth of taxpayer cash was wasted with a super-expensive 'National Programme for IT in the NHS'. The Department of Health, in the end, had very little to show for it as a consequence. Another example of poor management and a seemingly ingrained inability to provide taxpayers' with value for money.
"BT is paid £9 million to implement systems at each NHS site, even though the same systems have been purchased for under £2 million by NHS organisations outside the Programme", the Commons Public Accounts Committee noted.
Contentious. The Office for National Statistics estimated this has declined 3.4% since 1997, "with inputs increasing by 38%." The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimate that this inefficiency costs the taxpayer £58.4 billion a year.
Given the above record, are there any deals that the taxpayer has actually won out on? Not many, but the one successful project was the roll out of new Jobcentre Plus offices. It came in £314 million under budget, claims the Taxpayers' Alliance. A small cheer.