Not all of these claims about what MPs can claim in expenses are correct

30 August 2019
What was claimed

Iain Duncan Smith MP gets a £77 lunch allowance.

Our verdict

This is not correct. MPs can claim £25 per night for food expenses if they stay overnight outside of their constituency and the London area.

What was claimed

Iain Duncan Smith MP gets free transport.

Our verdict

MPs can claim for certain types of travel, including within their constituency and between Westminster and their constituency.

What was claimed

Iain Duncan Smith MP gets free accommodation.

Our verdict

MPs can claim expenses for rent on a second residence or hotel if their constituency is outside London, and if they don’t live in free accommodation, such as Downing Street. Iain Duncan Smith is a London MP, so can’t claim accommodation expenses.

What was claimed

Iain Duncan Smith MP gets free mobile phone calls.

Our verdict

MPs can claim for expenses for the costs of running a constituency office, including telephone and mobile phone calls for parliamentary purposes.

What was claimed

Iain Duncan Smith MP gets free stationery.

Our verdict

MPs can claim expenses for office stationery.

What was claimed

Iain Duncan Smith MP gets free use of a gym.

Our verdict

The gym is not free for MPs, who have to pay between £25 and £35 a month for membership.

What was claimed

Iain Duncan Smith MP has use of a House of Commons bar where purchases are subsidised by £7 to every £10 spent.

Our verdict

Although not directly subsidised, the catering services run at a loss, so public money is effectively spent subsidising the catering overall.

An image, shared almost 10,000 times on Facebook, has made a number of claims about the financial benefits Iain Duncan Smith gets for being an MP.

“I get £77 lunch allowance every day, free transport, free accommodation, free mobile phone calls, free stationary, free use of a gym and for every £10 I spend in the House of commons bar you pay £7 of it”.

Facebook user, 19 August 2018

The image refers to expenses that all MPs can claim. They are not privileges exclusively awarded to Mr Duncan Smith. Around half of the claims are correct, subject to certain conditions, and the rest are not.

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MPs can claim for food, but it’s not as much as £77

All MPs are entitled to food expenses of up to £25 per night if they stay overnight outside of their constituency and London. This can be for food bought during the day, but alcohol cannot be claimed as part of these expenses.

MPs can claim expenses for some types of travel

They can claim back the cost of travel by public or private transport, taxis and hire cars if the travel is in support of the MP’s parliamentary functions and:

  • they’re going from Westminster to their constituency (unless they’re a London MP and they’re going to their home),
  • they’re travelling within their constituency, unless it’s between their home and constituency office,
  • they’re taking extended UK travel for things like select committee matters, or constituency matters outside of the constituency,
  • they’re taking journeys to and from other states in Europe.

MPs’ staff are eligible to claim for most of the same travel costs as MPs. Mr Duncan Smith claimed around £2,800 in travel expenses in 2018/19, mainly for travel by his staff.

Most MPs can claim for a second residence

MPs are allowed to claim expenses for rent on a second residence or hotel costs if their constituency is outside London and they do not “by virtue of any particular office held, occupy ‘grace and favour’ accommodation in London.” As Iain Duncan Smith’s constituency is in London, he can’t claim accommodation expenses.

MPs living in ‘grace and favour’ homes are also essentially receiving “free” accommodation (for example, Boris Johnson lives rent free in the flat above 11 Downing Street). 

They can claim for calls made from mobiles

All MPs are allowed to claim expenses for running constituency offices, which includes telephone costs.

This does seem to include mobile phone bills, as we found a number of MPs who had claimed back such costs, including Mr Duncan Smith.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) says MPs should only claim for the proportion of telephone calls that “have been incurred for parliamentary purposes”.

MPs can claim for office stationery

MPs can claim for stationery used in their offices, as part of their budget to “meet the costs of renting, equipping and running” their constituency offices. They are not allowed to claim for stationery provided by the House of Commons.

Mr Duncan Smith claimed back £1,364 on purchases classed by IPSA as office stationery in 2018/19.

The parliamentary gym isn’t free

There is a gym for parliamentary staff, including MPs, but it’s not free. The gym told Full Fact that MPs have to pay a monthly fee to join, which is around £25 to £35 per month depending on whether they want to use the gym at peak times or not.

Subsidised bars

MPs (as well as parliamentary staff and visitors) can eat and drink in parliament’s bars and restaurants. While this food and drink is not directly subsidised, catering services across the House of Commons run at a loss, meaning that public money is effectively spent subsidising the overall catering operation.

We don’t know where the claim that taxpayers subsidise £7 in every £10 of MPs’ food comes from. In 2018/19, the total costs of the catering service (which the House of Commons classes as the cost minus the sales income) was £2.6 million.

In response to a Freedom of Information request in 2018, the House of Commons said MPs “make up a very small proportion of overall customers who use the catering services of the House of Commons”.

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