Coronavirus - additional office costs

Request

Regarding the recent award of £10000 to every MP to ‘work from home’. Under FOI I would like all material relating to the decision to award every MP £10,000 to facilitate them working from home during the Corona Virus outbreak of 2020, including the following specific pieces of information:

  • Who made the decision;

  • Who signed off the decision;

  • How the decision was scrutinised;

  • Why receipts are not required to prove spending;

  • How this amount was arrived at.


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, rather that 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. Who made the decision;

See response under question 3.

2. Who signed off the decision;

See response under question 3.

3. How the decision was scrutinised;

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 .

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.

4. Why receipts are not required to prove spending;

The only change during the Covid-19 pandemic is that the normal 90 day deadline for submitting claims has been extended, but MPs are still required to submit receipts in support of their claims in accordance with the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs & Expenses, a copy of which is published on the IPSA website.

We did also relaxed the rules on evidence requirements during the Covid-19 pandemic. IPSA will pay claims without evidence provided this is not available or accessible due to coronavirus. However, MPs will still have to submit the evidence to support their claim later. 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.

5. How this amount was arrived at. 

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.

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.  

The information we do hold is subject to a Refusal Notice under section 22 of FOIA. 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, and 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, I find that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this time. 

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:
RFI-202004-4
Disclosure:
May 18, 2020
Categories:
IPSA - BOARDIPSA - POLICYMPs' OFFICE COSTS
Exemptions Applied:
None