Coronavirus - additional office costs

Request

In response to this email, I would like:

(1) A full explanation as to how this figure of £10,000 was arrived at for each MP including calculations and the evidence used in the decision making;

(2) Provision of names of which committee within IPSA made this decision and any politicians or civil servants who were consulted before this decision was taken;

(3) How this decision was debated upon, by how many and who passed this decision and when;

(4) A list of MP's who take up this additional £10,000 - should this not be included due to the extension of these funds being made available until March, please file this email as a Freedom of Information request until after this date;

(5) Which bodies and groups were consulted before IPSA made this change;

(6) How long was the public consulted with before this change was made;

(7) Clarification on what evidence MP's are to supply in relation to this additional funding and an explanation of what has changed from the existing or previous policy in relation to expenses in this regard.

Whilst understanding that MP's might view themselves as under pressure given the current conditions, those of us working from home are entitled to around £6 per week in tax relief for working at home to cover electric, broadband and calls etc.

Your figure of £10,000 seems disproportionate especially given that it is in addition to their existing expenses of £26,000.


Response

I can confirm that we hold information relevant to your request and would like to begin by explaining that MPs were not awarded £10,000 to spend how they liked. This additional amount of money was made available for them to claim for any additional expenses they may incur by having to implement alternative ways of working due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most MPs’ staff moved at very short notice from being based in Westminster (or in a constituency office) to working from home. Many staff will not have been set up for home working. This additional funding is to help them make that transition as smoothly as possible, while dealing with a huge increase in workload as a result of coronavirus issues.

  1. A full explanation as to how this figure of £10,000 was arrived at for each MP including calculations and the evidence used in the decision making;

IPSA has increased MPs’ office costs budgets by £10,000 in order to support the move to homeworking for MPs’ staff members and to assist MPs in dealing with other additional costs that may arise during the coronavirus pandemic. In coming to this decision, IPSA considered estimated costs of equipment purchase and other costs relating to homeworking, and judged this to be an appropriate amount. The additional funding can only be accessed by the submission of claims that are compliant with the rules set out in the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs & Expenses, a copy of which is published on the IPSA website.

  1. Provision of names of which committee within IPSA made this decision and any politicians or civil servants who were consulted before this decision was taken;

Please see the response under question 3.

  1. How this decision was debated upon, by how many and who passed this decision and when;

The IPSA Board is responsible for decisions about IPSA policy, including the budgets made available to MPs for their business costs. The decision to provide an additional

£10,000 to MPs’ office costs’ budgets, in response to the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, was made by the IPSA Board at its meeting on 18 March 2020. For further information about the IPSA Board, please see our website .

Minutes of the March Board meeting will be published on our website here.

No politicians or civil servants were consulted prior to this decision being taken, due to the urgency of the circumstances which required immediate action. IPSA has subsequently written to statutory consultees (including all MPs) to inform them of these changes. 

  1. A list of MP's who take up this additional £10,000 - should this not be included due to the extension of these funds being made available until March, please file this email as a Freedom of Information request until after this date;

The additional £10,000 which has been made available in the MPs’ budget has been split between the previous and current financial years. Information about those who have claimed since April 2020 may not be held, as MPs can still make claims.

Information about claims made in respect of home working will, therefore, be published between July 2020 and November 2021

Section 22(1) of the FOIA states that information intended for future publication is exempt from release under section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act. This exemption applies because this information is intended for future publication by IPSA as part of our routine publication schedule.

Section 22 is a qualified exemption and requires us to consider the public interest. MPs have a certain amount of time in which to submit their claims. This period has been extended due to the current situation. Once claims have been submitted, there is then a period of validation and reconciliation, before the information is ready for publication. Information about claims made between December 2019 and March 2020 will be published in July 2020, with remaining information and information on budgets published in November 2020.

In the light of the validation and reconciliation procedure and because IPSA already has schedule of routinely publishing this information, it is our opinion that the public interest is best served by publishing a full list rather than on an ad hoc basis, as in this way a clear and complete set of information is published, avoiding any potential confusion. I, therefore, find that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this time.

  1. Which bodies and groups were consulted before IPSA made this change;

Please see the response under question 6.

  1. How long was the public consulted with before this change was made;

Under paragraph 3.11 of the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs & Expenses, IPSA may from time to time amend the financial limits and budgets set out in the Scheme. There is no statutory requirement to consult members of the public on such changes, and a consultation was not practicable due to the urgency of the circumstances. IPSA has subsequently written to inform statutory consultees of these changes, and will lay a document before Parliament in due course. 

  1. Clarification on what evidence MP's are to supply in relation to this additional funding and an explanation of what has changed from the existing or previous policy in relation to expenses in this regard.

The rules covering what business costs and expenses may be claimed by MPs, as well as the process and requirements for making claims, are set out in the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs & Expenses., a copy of which is published on the IPSA website.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, IPSA has extended the normal 90 day deadline for claims to be submitted. In exceptional circumstances, where supporting evidence for such claims is not available as a result of the pandemic, IPSA will pay these claims and require the evidence to be submitted at a later date. These changes do not affect the basic principle that MPs must make claims in line with the Scheme in order to be reimbursed for their costs, and that all claims must be supported by sufficient evidence. The wording from our guidance states: 

For costs incurred since the start of January 2020, IPSA has suspended the 90-day rule for claims. This means that you can still claim for these costs, even if you are unable to meet the normal 90-day deadline. If you do not have access to a receipt or invoice as a direct result of the coronavirus, and cannot wait for reimbursement, we will pay a claim without evidence and ask you to send in the evidence as soon as you can.

How to request an internal review of this response

If you are dissatisfied with the service you have received or if you wish to appeal the response, please send an email quoting the reference number of your request and the reason for your appeal, within two months of receipt. 

If you remain unhappy with the outcome of your appeal you can contact the Information Commissioner’s Office, the details of which can be found at ico.org.uk  In general, the ICO will only review cases when an organisation has completed its internal review.

Ref:
CAS-169909
Disclosure:
May 18, 2020
Categories:
IPSA - POLICYMPs' OFFICE COSTSIPSA - BOARD
Exemptions Applied:
Section 22