How we regulate
IPSA is an independent regulator of MPs’ pay, pensions, business costs and expenses. IPSA sets and regulates the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses; determines the salaries and pensions of MPs and pays the salaries of MPs and their staff. We are an effective and proportionate regulator. The Scheme sets out fundamental principles, details of how MPs should make claims, and the rules against which claims will be assessed.
We set budgets for different areas of expenditure, and MPs are required to stay within these budgets. We work to ensure that MPs comply with the rules by providing advice and guidance to help them understand the rules. We monitor how well the rules are being followed, analyse spending patterns and follow up possible breaches of the rules.
We take a proportionate approach in making sure that what we do achieves our objective of high compliance and support to MPs. We target our resources where they will have the most impact, and avoid unnecessary burdens on those we regulate. We make information about MPs’ expenditure accessible to the public.
IPSA processes between 150,000 and 180,000 claims for MPs’ business costs and expenses each financial year – an average of up to 15,000 per month – with an annual total value of £15-18 million. Since 2010, original copies of all receipts have been submitted to IPSA. In 2018 this will change when MPs will be able to submit scans of receipts.
We now have a three-tiered approach to the validation and assurance of claims, which takes an evidence based approach to determining risk and maintains efficiency in processing and paying claims, so that we reimburse MPs and suppliers as quickly as possible. This is one way in which we balance our dual responsibilities of financial support and regulation.
Assurance activity takes place throughout the ‘lifetime’ of a claim, covering pre-payment validation; post-payment validation; and reviews of expenditure across all MPs, focusing on a specific theme or area of expenditure. This approach allows us to be targeted and risk-based at the beginning of the process, whilst also being able to identify unusual claiming patterns or outliers which might signal the need for a more detailed examination.
The robustness of the three-tiered assurance process means that we have a high level of assurance that taxpayers’ money is being paid appropriately to MPs in support their parliamentary work.
The first tier of validation takes place before payment. At this stage a sample of claims is individually checked. The sample is made up of a mix of randomly selected claims and certain claim types that have been identified as priority risks. All other claims are paid upon receipt of evidence and checked in the subsequent validation processes described below.
Second-level validation takes place after payment. It is a quarterly retrospective exercise, or more frequently where necessary. It checks MPs’ claims allowing us to spot any claims that were not examined in the pre-payment validation process and which should not have been paid. In such cases, the MP is asked to repay the money.
The benefit of this post-payment validation is that it enables IPSA to look at an MP’s claims in context, meaning that we can identify any unusual patterns, outliers or repeated errors which would not be seen through pre-payment validation of individual claims. It also means that we can efficiently pay the majority of claims without burdensome pre-payment checks.
Claim reviews are not strictly part of the three-tiered approach, as they take place on an ad hoc basis (normally at the request of the MP). They are, however, a crucial way of checking that the decisions made during the first and second validation tiers are sound, consistent and in accordance with the Scheme rules.
Where a claim, or part of a claim, is determined as ineligible in either pre-payment validation or post-payment validation, the MP may request an internal review of this decision. The review is carried out by IPSA’s assurance team, who are separate from the team responsible for conducting the earlier validation processes, in order to provide a degree of independence.
If the claim review determines that IPSA’s decision not to pay a claim (or to recover money that has been paid) was due to an error or an incorrect application of Scheme rules, then the MP’s claim is eligible and will be paid. On the other hand, the review may uphold IPSA’s original decision. In these cases, the MP can appeal to the Compliance Officer if they choose.
The third tier is the programme of thematic assurance reviews which are carried out by IPSA’s assurance team. Thematic reviews examine aggregate spending by all MPs in a specific category or range of categories. Any significant outliers or unusual patterns will be identified and followed up, for example by contacting the MPs in question to seek assurance that the rules were well understood and that the claims were compliant.
These thematic reviews have confirmed a high degree of compliance amongst MPs. In a small number of cases, the findings of thematic reviews have led to repayments; and in rare cases, we have referred claims to the Compliance Officer (for example, where we believe there may have been intentional abuse of the rules).
More often, we use the understanding and insight gained through thematic reviews to inform other areas of our work. For example, where a review has revealed that our operational processes have not been effective in implementing rules or in supporting MPs to comply with the rules, we have made adjustments to improve these. Likewise, where a review has revealed that certain rules are poorly understood by MPs, we have looked to improve our communication of the rules concerned to MPs and made amendments to the Scheme where appropriate.
In selecting the topics for thematic reviews each year, we consider factors including the perceived risk of error in certain areas of spend, as well as discussions with operational teams within IPSA and feedback from MPs and other stakeholders. Some areas, such as constituency mileage claims and telephone usage, have also been of interest to IPSA’s auditors. Significant events also play a role. So, for example, we have conducted thematic reviews on rules relating to elections and referendums following these events.
Staff working directly for Members of Parliament are recruited and employed by the MP. IPSA is responsible for paying the salary of the staff member. Currently, expenditure is regulated by IPSA in a number of ways. Staff must be recruited using one of the standard job descriptions established by IPSA, and MPs must employ new staff using a standard IPSA contract. IPSA also sets the salary bands for each job. Who an MP can employ is also regulated, with clear rules about the employment of ‘connected parties’ –such as the spouses, partners or children of MPs. MPs were only allowed to include one such person between 2010 and 2017 and no new ones since June 2017.
In order for IPSA to pay for an MP’s office or residential accommodation, we require that there is a formal agreement between the property owner and the MP. It needs to be registered with IPSA and we require a copy of a signed lease before any money is paid.
During election periods, MPs are sent extra guidance about what they can and can’t claim for. MPs staff must take annual leave or unpaid leave if they wish to take part in campaign activities.