Please could I be supplied with:
a) A breakdown of the amounts owed to Ipsa by MPs and former MPs as of the most recent available date, including names.
b) Details of MPs and former MPs who have been subject to action to recover money owed, since the last disclosure you made (February 23). Could this include names, the amount of debt when the action was taken, what measures were taken (eg cancelling payment cards), and what the current level of outstanding debt is.
c) Details of any amounts that have been written off over the past financial year 2015-16.
IPSA holds the information that you request.
There are numerous reasons why an MP may be listed as ‘owing’ an amount to IPSA. The fact that an MP is required to pay an amount to IPSA does not indicate any breach of the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’) or the associated procedures. Indeed, the day to day operation of the expenses systems means that at any one point in time, amounts will be owed by IPSA to MPs, and by MPs to IPSA.
For example, claims made on payment cards require reconciling a month after the cost is incurred; purchases are made on the card by the MP and supporting documentation must then be supplied to IPSA by the end of the month. Until supporting documentation is received, the claim is marked as requiring repayment. Where supporting documentation can be provided for a claimable expense, the amount is not required to be repaid by the MP.
- where an MP exceeds a budget limit, that amount exceeding the limit must be repaid;
- where an MP has paid for something on their payment card, but marked the payment as a cost which they do not intend to claim from IPSA, this amount must be repaid; and
- where a claim has been identified through post-payment assurance checks as a cost that is ineligible under the Scheme, this amount must be repaid (and the claim will be marked as such on our publication website).
In addition to payment card reconciliation reminders, all MPs are sent financial statements each month detailing their financial position with IPSA. These statements include personalised projections of spend over the financial year. If an MP is projected to overspend, this is highlighted to the MP. These statements also contain details of amounts that IPSA believes are required to be repaid. If the MP has not contacted IPSA by the following financial statement, these amounts become owed.
Action taken to recover amounts
If these amounts are not repaid or reconciled by the end of the following week, action is initiated by IPSA to recover the amounts. This takes the form of ‘offsetting’. During this period, the MP’s payment card is temporarily suspended (either for all claims or partially for certain expense categories), and all reimbursement claims are not paid to the MP until the amount has been recovered in full.
Occasionally, once the action to initiate offsetting has been taken, MPs may voluntarily decide to set up salary deductions to repay the amounts due. Once a repayment plan has been established, use of the payment card is then reinstated.
Information previously disclosed
As noted in your request, we have disclosed information relating to amounts owed by MPs in previous FOI requests. These responses can be found on our website via the following links.
- Amounts owed and action taken to recover amounts (March 2016): http://parliamentarystandards.org.uk/transparency/FOI/2015-16%20Freedom%20of%20information%20requests%20and%20responses/CAS-35005%20-%20Amounts%20owed%20by%20MPs.pdf
- Amounts owed and action taken to recover amounts (June 2015): http://parliamentarystandards.org.uk/transparency/FOI/2014-15%20Freedom%20of%20information%20requests%20and%20responses/wF1415-159.pdf
- Amounts repaid by departing MPs (June 2015): http://parliamentarystandards.org.uk/transparency/FOI/2015-16%20Freedom%20of%20information%20requests%20and%20responses/CAS-14402.pdf
Your request for information
In these previous disclosures, determining the information requested has required extensive communication with MPs and their offices, incurring a significant cost and administrative burden on IPSA staff, taking them away from their ‘business-as-usual’ work. Increased frequency of such requests increases that burden on IPSA staff and the associated costs. As such, and using our experience of handling previous requests, we estimate that to determine, locate, retrieve and extract the information you have requested would take us over the appropriate cost limit of £450 (part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act). Consequently, IPSA is not obliged to respond to your request (see section 12(1), FOIA).
Further, details of any amounts written off during the 2015-16 financial year will be published as part of our annual publication for the 2015-16 financial year. This year, we expect annual publication to take place in November 2016. Section 22(1) of the FOIA states that information intended for future publication is exempt from release. We have considered whether the public interest in releasing the information outweighs the application of the exemption. It is our opinion that the public interest is best served by publishing a full list in line with our intended schedule rather than on an ad hoc basis, as in this way a clear and complete set of information is published, avoiding any potential confusion. It is for this reason that the application of the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this stage. However, you may be interested to know that we are currently consulting on actively publishing this information on a regular basis. You can find details of this consultation on our website at the following address (including details on how to respond): http://parliamentarystandards.org.uk/transparency/Pages/Consultations.aspx.