Information relating to the Assurance Review of MPs’ use of IPSA payment cards

Request

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please provide me with full answers to each of the following questions regarding the Assurance Review of MPs’ use of IPSA payment cards.

  1. Please provide the analysis of retailers listed in the transaction data (para 14), for example the top 10 most used retailers and the amount spent with each of them .

  2. Please provide a breakdown of the £198,000 lines defined as personal costs (para 17) including type of spending and retailer .

  3. Please list the 14 MPs who repeatedly use the cards for personal items (para 18) .

  4. Please list the five MPs contacted for repeated misuse of the card (para 19) .

  5. Please list the MPs contacted for outstanding amounts and the amount of debt each one owed (para 26) .


Response

I can confirm that we hold information relevant to your request.

Before I address your questions, I would like to confirm the definition of “Personal costs”. The Scheme of MPs Business Costs and Expenses gives many examples of personal costs:

  • anything related to an activity that is not considered parliamentary in the Scheme, e.g. attendance at party conference (page 14)

  • anything not considered an associated cost, e.g. cleaning (pages 19-20)

  • other non-claimable items, e.g. alcoholic drinks, tax advice (page 26)

1. Please provide the analysis of retailers listed in the transaction data (para 14), for example the top 10 most used retailers and the amount spent with each of them .

I apologise that clarification was not sought on this question at the time. We are unsure whether you meant the top most used retailers for all not paid payment card claims or just “personal” not paid claims. I have provided a list of the ten most used retailers for all “not paid” payment card claims, and the amount spent with each supplier. If you can clarify what you mean, then we will be happy to reconsider our response.

RetailerTotal amount (£)
Amazon1755.67
BT7668.42
House of Commons 2303.44
London Underground2140.80
Sainsbury4006.40
Tesco1695.55
TFL1256.79
Trainline2109.83
Hotel chain5378.42
Travel agent2606.53

Details for two suppliers, a travel agent and hotel chain, have been withheld under FOIA section 38(1)(b) health and safety, where the disclosure of information would, or would be likely to, endanger the safety of any individual. Section 38 is concerned with the likelihood of prejudice to the safety of an individual if the information were disclosed.

IPSA understands and is committed to the need for transparency with regard to the use of public money. However, we also recognise the heightened feelings which have emerged as a result of the pandemic. We therefore believe that, if we disclosed the names of the hotel chain and travel agent there is a high likelihood of risk to the safety and life of MPs who use these suppliers. 2. Please provide a breakdown of the £198,000 lines defined as personal costs (para 17) including type of spending and retailer.

This information is subject to a Refusal Notice under the FOIA. The relevant exemption is sections 40(2) and 40(3A)(a) personal data.

This exemption applies to information which IPSA considers to be personal data within the meaning of Article 4(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (GDPR) which states:

‘personal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person;

IPSA believes that disclosure of the breakdown by spending and retailer may constitute personal data. either because a particular retailer is only based in one area of the UK with a limited number of local MPs which could potentially identify the MP’s location, or because, if combined with other information in the public domain, it would be possible to identify a specific MP.

IPSA then had to consider whether disclosure of this personal data would breach any of the Principles relating to the processing of personal data in the GDPR.

The relevant principle falls at Article 5(1)(a) :

Personal data shall be:

(a) Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject

IPSA then considered whether there was a lawful basis within Article 6 of GDPR, in particular, whether there is a legitimate interest in disclosing the names of the individuals and whether it is necessary to do so in order to respond to the request. The organisation is mindful of the need for accountability and transparency when considering any request from the public, however in this case we also have to consider whether disclosure would outweigh the interests, rights and fundamental freedoms of the individuals concerned. IPSA recognises that breakdown of the figures against the retailers would enable the public to understand the expenditure of MPs.

However, IPSA maintains that at the time the data was collected, that the individuals would have a reasonable expectation that the information would not be disclosed in a way which would put them at risk of identification. We therefore find that, not only is there no lawful basis on which we can rely, to disclose this information, but that disclosure would also be unfair.

In conclusion IPSA finds that the personal data is exempt under sections 40(2) and 40(3A)(a) of FOIA.

The next questions are subject to the same section 40 Refusal Notice, in particular because they ask for the names of MPs.

3. Please list the 14 MPs who repeatedly use the cards for personal items (para 18).

The term “repeated” is not defined in the Scheme or Assurance Review: MPs Use of their Payment Cards.

4. Please list the five MPs contacted for repeated misuse of the card (para 19).

“Misuse” is defined in the Assurance Review, page 5, as “use of the card for ineligible items” and “where repayments have not been made within 30 days”.

5. Please list the MPs contacted for outstanding amounts and the amount of debt each one owed (para 26) .

IPSA defines debt in the Business as Usual Debt Recovery Process as:

money owed to IPSA by former MPs (those MPs who have stood down or were defeated and are no longer subject to the winding up process), former MPs’ staff or external customers.

and, in the Assurance Review on page 5, which says that items marked not claimed and which have not been repaid within 30 days of the reconciliation are treated as monies owed or debt.

This information is subject to the section 40 Refusal Notice above and additionally is exempt under section 38(1)(b) health and safety, where the disclosure of information would, or would be likely to, endanger the safety of any individual. Section 38 is concerned with the likelihood of prejudice to the safety of an individual if the information were disclosed.

IPSA understands and is committed to the need for transparency with regard to the use of public money. However, we also recognise the heightened feelings which have emerged as a result of the pandemic. We therefore believe that, if we disclosed the amount of debt which is currently being chased and the names of the MPs concerned, in connection with the 2019 General Election, there is a high likelihood of risk to the safety and life of that MP and members of their staff.

As part of its routine annual publication cycle, IPSA publishes a certain amount of information relating to amounts paid and not paid, and amount of debt written off. In the light, of this we find that the public interest in withholding information amount of debt being chased outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this time.

Ref:
CAS-169907
Disclosure:
September 25, 2020
Categories:
IPSA - POLICYIPSA - OPERATIONS
Exemptions Applied:
Section 40, Section 38