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Saturday, 22 November 2014

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Cumbrian MP devastated by demand to repay £2,000 expenses

A Cumbrian MP has been asked to pay £2,000 back to taxpayers.

Tony Cunningham photo
Tony Cunningham

The cash relates to an alleged overpayment on Tony Cunningham's mortgage interest for his London flat, where he lives while Parliament is in session.

The former teacher, who represents Workington, said he was devastated to receive a letter from Sir Thomas Legg, head of a panel looking into second home expense claims.

“I was extremely surprised to get that letter and I strongly dispute the figures. I was told by the Fees Office to claim the interest payments for the retrospective tax year and it appears that Sir Thomas and the panel are looking at what I should have paid during the current tax year, hence the shortfall.

“I am devastated. However, I have decided to write them a cheque for the money and be vindicated when the inquiry is over and they send the money back.

“I’d rather be concentrating on constituency issues like a new hospital, new schools and helping my constituents who have lost their jobs than fretting about this.

“This is bigger than me, this is about restoring confidence in Parliament as a whole.

“It’s never been about the money for me – for years I have been the lowest-claiming Cumbrian MP and that’s something I’m proud of.”

Every MP was contacted by the panel, headed by former civil servant Sir Thomas, about the second home allowance claimed between 2004 and 2008.

After the expenses scandal broke in May, documents and receipts were submitted by MPs to the Fees Office in June.

Mr Cunningham at the time made all his receipts and documents available in his office for his constituents to see, but only one person requested to see them.

He also published the information on his website.

MPs can claim a maximum of £24,000 a year of the additional costs allowance.

In 2004-5 Mr Cunningham claimed £16,760.53. In 2005-6 he claimed £16,196.85, in 2006-7 he claimed £15,038.12 and in 2007-8 he claimed £16,802.77.

Among the costs claimed back was £399.99 for a television, which he bought when his previous set broke down. He furnished his London flat out of his own pocket.

MPs now have three weeks to study the findings before replying to the panel.

When Sir Thomas completes the report, it will go before the members’ estimates committee, a group of senior MPs chaired by the Speaker which considers issues relating to pay and allowances.

Mr Cunningham added: “I could have contested by not paying but it would have meant another three weeks of this upset and then another few weeks after that of not knowing what would happen.

“It’s already taken up far too much of my time and I’ve got more important constituency issues to concentrate on.”

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