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Blair was threatened with bailiffs


Kahnee

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Details of MPs’ expenses were have been made public after a three-year legal battle – and they revealed Tony Blair failed to pay his household bills on time.

Reminders for the former Prime Minister to pay water and gas bills and warning bailiffs could be sent in was among around 450 documents released under freedom of information laws.

Mr Blair and his successor Gordon Brown were also revealed to have spent almost £15,000 of taxpayers’ money between them on doing up their kitchens.

Commons authorities gave up a £100,000 legal bid to keep them secret on Monday, when the Members Estimate Committee decided not to appeal against a High Court ruling that they should be released.

Three boxes of papers contain documentation – including receipts and invoices – of claims under the Additional Cost Allowance, which covers the expense of running a second home while living away from their constituencies on parliamentary business.

Freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke, who requested much of the information, said the release showed the authorities had held back to “avoid embarrassment” not to protect security.

“The issue here is not so much the content as MPs’ willingness to be open and engage directly with their constituents,” Heather Brooke said.

“It is up to constituents to decide whether they believe spending thousands of pounds on new kitchens, house renovations, TV licences and garden maintenance is an acceptable use of public money.

“What is utterly unacceptable is the secrecy of the system and it indicates that MPs did not feel able to justify these expenses to their constituents.”

Certain sensitive details on the original documents - including the address of Mr Brown’s constituency home and Mr Cameron’s mortgage account number - have been blanked out of the photocopies which were made public.

Under the terms of the court ruling, details may be withheld from the public where there are “specific security concerns”.

The documents showed Mr Brown’s claims include a Sky TV subscription and television licence, utility and council tax bills and charges for service, insurance and ground rent.

The then-Chancellor also submitted a bill for £4,471 for refurbishment work on his kitchen in 2005 and £1,396 for painting and decorating in 2006.

Barring one small claim for a telephone bill, Tory leaders David Cameron’s expenses seem to consist only of claims for mortgage interest on his second home.

Claims by Mr Blair, who is no longer an MP, related to his “Myrobella House” home in his former Sedgefield constituency, and they included more than £10,600 for a new kitchen, work to accommodate an Aga cooker and a £515 dishwasher.

A stock reminder from Northumbrian Water warned Mr Blair that he had not paid a £147.11 and said the company “appreciate that you may be experiencing some financial difficulties”.

Within two months, he had received another from British Gas reminding him of an overdue £284.68 and warning that the supply could be cut off unless the bill was paid.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott claimed £6,707.06 to cover external repairs to his constituency home in Hull in 2005, including replacing windows and sills and supplying and fixing mock Tudor boards to the front gable.

Ex-Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett had a £600 claim disallowed in 2006 for plants for her garden.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s clear that this allowance pays for far more than just a base in London - MPs use it to fund a lifestyle far more comfortable than their constituents enjoy.

“Taxpayers should not be made to pay for Gordon Brown’s Sky TV subscription or Tony Blair’s £10,000 kitchen.

“Given the economic climate and the fact that everyone’s feeling poorer, it’s high time MPs reined in the amounts they spend. It is costly for taxpayers and harmful to the standing of Parliament for them to use expenses to live the high life.”

The Commons authorities opposed their release on the grounds that it would inevitably result in the private addresses of the MPs becoming public, putting their security at risk, but last week the High Court backed an Information Tribunal ruling that they must be handed over.

The documents cover a range of years between 2001 and 2006, which were specified in the original requests under the Freedom of Information Act, and do not provide a full set of expenses covering the entire period.

But they give a snapshot of the sort of items for which the MPs claimed allowances under ACA, which Commons rules state should “reimburse Members for necessary costs incurred when staying overnight away from their main home for the purpose of performing parliamentary duties”.

The totals claimed were already public knowledge, but today’s release gives more detail than ever before on the precise items MPs paid for with the ACA, worth a maximum of £22,110 a year to MPs for constituencies outside central London.

Other MPs who claims were published included shadow chancellor George Osborne, ex-cabinet minister and now European Commissioner Peter Mandelson, former Tory leader William Hague and ex-Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell.

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Barring one small claim for a telephone bill, Tory leader David Cameron’s expenses seem to consist only of claims for mortgage interest on his second home.

So what is the interest on Hampshire then?

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Guest DanTheDaggerman

Why can MPs claim on expenses for their constituency homes? I thought the expenses system was mainly to cover their London homes.

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