Northern Irish MPs' constituency offices

Request

The total amount of expenses for (i) rent and (ii.) rates paid to each Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland since 2010. Furthermore could you specify;

  • The full postal address of each office claimed for and the start date of each rent agreement (and end date where appropriate).

  • The landlord name for each address.

  • The agent name for each address when applicable.

  • Who ultimately benefits from the expenses claimed for.

  • Any correspondence between the MP and IPSA regarding any valuation of estimated rental costs or any concerns raised regarding the rents being claimed for.

  • Any correspondence between IPSA and the landlords and/or agents of any of the offices rented by MPs from Northern Ireland since 2010.


Response

IPSA holds the information that you request.

As you will be aware, Members of Parliament are entitled, under the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’) to claim the cost of renting office space for the purpose of a constituency office. 

MPs may also claim the cost of ‘rates’, which may include energy and water bills, business rates, contents and business insurance and telephone and internet costs. 

Chapter Six of the Scheme specifies the rules regarding Office Costs Expenditure (OCE), and can be viewed on our website, via the following link: http://parliamentarystandards.org.uk/IPSAMPs/Scheme/schemeversion/Documents/MPs%e2%80%99%20Scheme%20of%20Business%20Costs%20and%20Expenses%20Sixth%20Edition.pdf.

Claims for rent

With regards to your request for claims for constituency office rent and rates, IPSA publishes details of all claims for business costs and expenses on our website every two months, three months in arrears, on our dedicated publication website http://www.parliamentary-standards.org.uk. The most recent publication took place on 11 September 2014, which relates to claims made between April and May 2014. Using the search function, you can download details of all claims made for constituency office rent.

The following instructions may assist you in filtering the information.

  1. Select ‘Search Function’ via the menu bar at the top of the page.

  2. Under ‘Select MP(s), Constituencies, Postcode or Region’, select an MP, or tick the box to select all MPs.

  3. Under ‘Select a year and, optionally, month(s)’, select a financial period.

  4. Under ‘Select category(s) of Business Cost or Expense’, select ‘Office Costs’ and ‘Constituency Rental’.

  5. Under ‘Select type(s) of Business Cost or Expense’, select ‘Const Office Rent’, ‘Const Office Rent 2’, ‘Const Office Rent 3’ and ‘Const Office Rent 4’.

The FOIA states that information that is accessible by other means is not subject to release. Therefore, as the information you have requested is already available on our website, it is exempt from disclosure under section 21 of the FOIA (information accessible to applicant by other means).

Constituency office addresses

Should an MP wish to claim rent and/or rates for a constituency office, each office must first be registered with IPSA, in line with the rules set out in the Scheme.  The information provided at Annex A lists those offices which have been registered with IPSA. The information does not indicate whether the offices listed are currently active as constituency offices or not.  

When paying rent, MPs can choose to either:

  1. pay the landlord or agent themselves, and then claim reimbursement for that cost from their office costs expenditure budget; or

  2. 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.

Rent agreement dates

Where an MP claims the cost of rent, and has registered a rent agreement with IPSA, we have listed the start and end dates of those agreements at Annex A. 

Some MPs may choose not to claim the rental costs of their office and only claim rates.  Where this is the case, we have indicated so by stating “MP does not claim rent”.

Landlord and agents names

You requested the landlord name and agent, where applicable, for each constituency office.

We are withholding the name of the landlords and agents under Section 38(1)(b) (health and safety) of the FOI Act. This section of the Act states that information is exempt if its disclosure under the FOI Act would, or would be likely to, endanger the safety of any individual.

You may be aware that on 14 November 2013, IPSA published details of MPs rental agreements for constituency offices. This includes the name of the individual, company or organisation each MP’s payments are made to for constituency office rent. You can view this information on our website http://www.parliamentary-standards.org.uk/AnnualisedData.aspx. However, this information did not include MPs representing constituencies in Northern Ireland.

After considering the nature of the withheld information (and given that disclosures under FOI are made to the public as a whole and not just the individual requestor), we believe that if it were disclosed, there is a chance it could be used to endanger the safety of the landlords and agents listed.

We recognise the public interest in transparency surrounding the publishing of this information, as demonstrated by our publication of most MPs’ constituency office landlords last year. However, there is also a strong public interest in ensuring that we are able to protect our service users, and third parties, from threats to their safety. This is particularly true for MPs representing constituencies in Northern Ireland, and is also in line with our stated publication policy. It is for this reason that we have decided that the application of the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

Correspondence

You also requested correspondence between IPSA and the MPs, and between IPSA and the landlords or agents.

In order to locate, retrieve and extract this information, we would be required to manually go through every piece of correspondence exchanged (relating to all MPs representing constituencies in Northern Ireland) to ascertain whether it falls within the remit of the request. We undertook a test to estimate the amount of time it would take to carry out this task. We estimate that it would take 23 hours of staff time which takes 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 this part of your request (see section 12(1), FOIA).

Ref:
F1415-058
Disclosure:
September 14, 2014
Categories:
MPs' OFFICE COSTS
Exemptions Applied:
Cost limit