I am writing to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act for details of landlords and their MPs.
Please provide a current list (as of today’s date) of MPs who claim rental accommodation and the landlords, agents, and recipients of rental payments relating to those claims.
IPSA holds the information that you request.
Under the provisions of the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’), non-London MPs may claim for accommodation expenditure to meet costs necessarily incurred on overnight accommodation which is required for the performance of their parliamentary functions. This may be in relation to a property at one location, either in the London area or within their constituency (or within 20 miles of any point in the constituency). You can view the Scheme in full on our website, available via this link.
In processing your request, we have considered the release of the information you request on a case by case basis. As of 12 June 2014, there were 318 Members of Parliament claiming for rental accommodation under the Scheme.
As a first step, it might be helpful to provide some background.
Transparency is a fundamental principle for IPSA, and a statutory obligation under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. In reaching judgements about the release of information, we need to balance the importance of transparency, the requirements of FOIA and our statutory duties under the Data Protection Act 1998. In view of the fact that your request is for information relating to residential addresses, we also need to protect appropriately the security of Members of Parliament and their families.
IPSA’s policy is set out in our response to the Publication Consultation in 2010 (www.parliamentarystandards.org.uk) and was developed in consultation with both the Information Commissioner and the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons.
The policy is that IPSA will publish the first alphabetical block, and the first numerical block of the postcode of MPs’ residential addresses where claims are made for these properties under the Scheme. We explicitly stated at the time that the Policy was published that we would not publish the full postcode or address. We also informed Members of Parliament that they would need to inform suppliers of goods and services (including landlords) that their details may be published from time to time.
Our approach is based on the balance between giving the public enough information to be satisfied that the expenses claimed are within the provisions of the Scheme, and protecting the security of MPs and their families.
It is our view that there is nothing in principle to distinguish between the release of an MP’s address and information which would identify an MP’s address. Both pieces of information need to be treated in the same way.
Our response to your request
You may be aware that we responded to an identical request in November 2012, reference FOI2012-A067a. You can view the request and our response via this link, and the information released via this link.
In responding to your request, we have sought to establish whether each MP’s arrangements have changed since we responded to the previous request. Where an MP’s arrangements have changed, we have provided the updated information. Where an MP’s arrangements remain unchanged, we have indicated so. As this information has already been released and is publically available on our website, it is therefore exempt from release under section 21 of the FOIA (information accessible to applicant by other means).
When paying rent, MPs can choose to either:
- pay the landlord or agent themselves, and then claim reimbursement for that cost from their accommodation expenditure budget, or
- register a direct payment with IPSA, whereby IPSA pays the agent or landlord directly.
In our response, we have indicated whether: (1) the MP receives reimbursement, or (2) we pay either the agent or landlord directly.
We have considered, for each individual MP, whether any of the relevant exemptions under the FOIA apply. In order to be in a position to do so, it has been necessary to contact each MP and to ascertain whether:
- the release of the information would immediately, or clearly lead to, the identification of the full postcode and address of their rental accommodation;
- the MP had specific, and evidenced security concerns that require IPSA to take additional steps to protect the identification of the address. In line with our agreed policy, such concerns have to be supported by the police and/or security agencies.
In addition, we needed to consider, in the case of each landlord and agent, whether any of the relevant exemptions under the FOIA applied. In order to do so, it has been necessary to contact each landlord and agent and provide them with an opportunity to make representations.
Section 40 FOIA – Personal information
We have considered whether the exemption at Section 40(2) of the FOI Act applies.
Section 40(2) provides that personal information about third parties is exempt information if one of the conditions set out in section 40(3) is satisfied. Under the FOI Act disclosure of this information would breach the fair processing principle (Principle 1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), where it would be unfair to those persons or is confidential. For further information, you may wish to visit the UK Legislation website.
We can confirm that we have withheld the landlord/agent name under Section 40(2) on the basis that such disclosure would be "unfair processing" where an MP, landlord or agent demonstrated that
- the release of the landlord/agent name identifies or might clearly lead to the identification of the address and they have provided a rationale for this; and
- the individual has actively taken steps to avoid their address being in the public domain.
We have also considered whether section 40(2) applies solely in relation to the fact that an identified living individual is a landlord/agent for an MP. We note that section 40 has no application to corporate bodies.We have considered whether the disclosure of the landlord/agent name would breach any of the Data Protection Principles, in particular the First Data Protection Principle.
We consider that the disclosure of this fact would not be "unfair" to an individual landlord/agent. We have come to this view for the following reasons. In order to satisfy the “fairness” requirements we have:
- informed all landlords/agents that the disclosure is to be made; and
- considered any representations made by landlords/agents which would support an argument that the disclosure would result in “prejudice to the rights and freedoms or legitimate interests of the [landlord]”.
We note that it is a requirement of the Scheme that rental agreements cannot be set up with connected parties. It is our considered view that the legitimate interests of the public in being assured that the rental agreements fall within the Scheme outweighs the arguments in favour of withholding the information.
Section 38 FOIA – Health and safety
Section 38 of the FOIA states that information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to:
- endanger the physical or mental health of any individual, or
- endanger the safety of any individual.
As such, we have withheld the landlord/agent name where an MP has expressed concerns about safety and security, and provided supporting evidence of that concern.
We have also considered Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act which provides that: information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)
We have considered this exemption and concluded that disclosure of the landlord’s identity would not prejudice the commercial interests of the MP or the landlord. In any event, it is not for IPSA to speculate as to whether there is any commercial detriment to a third party and the reasons why without evidence or input from that third party. Again, we have considered the legitimate public interest in disclosing the information and on the basis of the rationale set out have concluded that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in withholding the information.
At Annex A, in response to your request, is a full list of all Members of Parliament who, as at 12 June 2014, claim for rental accommodation under the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses. Where we do not hold information, this is marked “N/A” on the list. Where, by applying the exemptions listed above, we have withheld information, this is marked “Redacted”.
 In exceptional circumstances, IPSA may at its discretion allow an MP to claim for more than one property in the MP’s constituency.