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MPs get pounds 3m in expenses after lodging 25,000 claims.

MEMBERS of Parliament were paid more than pounds 3.2m of taxpayer-funded expenses in the first two months of this year - and have racked up pounds 880,000 on official payment cards.

Almost 25,000 claims were submitted for January and February and only pounds 4,633 of the sums asked for by MPs was refused by the independent regulator. Claims by 84 MPs were rejected.

Among them, the latest figures from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) show, was Education Secretary Michael Gove. He was denied pounds 7.50-worth of ineligible calls from a phone bill.

Ipsa also disclosed the sums being put on payment cards issued to MPs - which were originally designed just to pay for travel.

The rules were relaxed amid politicians' protests and they can now use them to settle bills for business rates, council tax bills and certain utility bills.

About 10,000 such transactions have been made by 378 MPs.

The total payments for the start of this year were the same as for the last two months of 2010 but the bill is set to rise significantly when future figures are published.

In a series of concessions to soothe MPs furious about the system introduced in the wake of the Westminster pay and perks scandal, Ipsa is now allowing them to spend more.

The controversial changes were announced in March after angry complaints from across parties that the system created in the wake of the expenses scandal is too restrictive and bureaucratic.

Ipsa has refused to estimate how much the changes would cost the taxpayer, saying it would depend on what MPs claimed.

The extra staff spending for 650 MPs could potentially reach pounds 3.25m, and the accommodation bill is likely to rise by hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Among other high-profile MPs to have claims rejected were Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham who wanted more than pounds 250 in train fares from his constituency and former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell who was denied reimbursement of a pounds 286 air fare from London to Scotland.

Both were ruled out on the basis of "insufficient evidence" - the same reason given to Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes over a pounds 50 cleaning bill.

Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson - a former paymaster general - had a claim thrown out for a pounds 63.50 first-class train ticket - apparently for journey across Italy.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 3, 2011
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