Great Yarmouth MP defends rent stance in fresh expenses row

Communities Minister Brandon Lewis has defended his renting arrangements, in the face of a fresh media storm over expenses.

The Great Yarmouth MP is among more than two dozen who let out their homes while claiming public money to rent another property for themselves, records show.

But he has said he has always played by the rules, and has vowed to stop claiming for any accommodation costs in future.

He told the EDP: “I’ve always strictly adhered to the rightly rigorous standards set out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) and moving forward I will not be claiming any accommodation expenses.”

Many MPs using the practice were letting out their London homes, and claimed they were forced to take such action due to the “inflexible” expenses regime - and that they could not afford to keep their homes otherwise.

But Ipsa records suggest Mr Lewis was letting out his constituency home while renting another in the borough.

He says he investigated the practice but never claimed.

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Claiming for mortgage interest was banned by regulator (Ipsa) this summer, and now MPs are only permitted to receive expenses for renting.

The practice that has come under scrutiny does not break any rules, but critics have voiced concern that it allows MPs to gain from Commons allowances.

Mr Lewis told a national newspaper he had decided to let his property instead of selling because it was in negative equity.

And he said rents in the Yarmouth borough are cheaper than in London, so claiming rent for his constituency instead of the capital costs the taxpayer around �8,000 a year less.

Richard Howitt, MEP for the east of England, put the actions of Mr Lewis under scrutiny.

He suggested that by renting in his constituency and owning a home in the capital his priorities were wrong, and asked for clarification over the rent he claimed.

“I think these are genuine questions of public interest,” he said. “I strongly believe in the principle of living in your constituency and is he saying his home is in London?

“Secondly, people must judge the propriety of whether putting his home up for rent then renting a second home is proper or not. “I think it should be a matter of public record if the amount he receives from the public purse might lead to him making some sort of profit.

“That’s a straight question he can give a straight answer to.”

Mr Lewis said he did not profit from the arrangement, and will now claim no accommodation costs at all.

He added that he is in London for five days of most weeks fulfilling his duties, and in the constituency at weekends so did not have a main home.

“It’s split between the two,” he said. “For an MEP who spends much of his time in Brussels, it’s just political.”