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Newbury MP defends expenses claims

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NEWBURY MP Laura Farris has said she is 'deeply hurt by suggestions she has somehow done something wrong' by claiming £15, 210 in rent for a second home in London.

Her comments come after a constituent contacted the Newbury Weekly News to express their concerns about Mrs Farris' expenses.

Official figures show that, since being elected in December 2019, Mrs Farris has claimed more than £26,000, which includes the property in London.

Laura Farris (47163903)
Laura Farris (47163903)

She has also spent an additional £1,717.94 on hotels and £9,127.25 on travel expenses which includes £1,612.90 on mileage for her car, £1,596.71 on hiring an additional car, £320.30 on parking tickets, £201.94 on private taxis and £4,623.30 on train tickets in the last 18 months.

After details of her expenses were published, one constituent contacted the NWN to question "why Mrs Farris was claiming for a second home during a national lockdown".

In an email to the paper, they said: "The rent payments for Ms Farris' second home are £7,605 and appear to be going out quarterly. That would make her second home, at taxpayer's expense, worth £30,420 each year.

"I note from the IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) website that the annual maximum for renting a second home is £23,290, unless you try to claim that you are raising your children in London, in which case you can claim for a £5,500 uplift per child.

"This seems to me to present two problems. Either Laura Farris' entire family life is based in London, in which case how can she claim to be a constituency MP, or she is claiming thousands of pounds in the name of her children when they are not living in London."

In response, Mrs Farris said: "The Houses of Parliament make specific allowances for any MP who has a dependent child and IPSA rules allow for extra bedrooms where the MP has children.

“Extra funds are made available on a per child basis, irrespective if the accommodation is in the constituency or in Westminster.

"As the mother of two young children I qualify for this funding. There are 38 women in Parliament who are mothers of children under the age of 11 - that is just five per cent of all MPs.

"To the best of my knowledge there are 14 women whose children live in the home local to their constituency and who qualify for an accommodation allowance in London. I am one of them.

"It is not easy to do this with young children (my youngest was five when I was elected) and the small number of mums in Parliament with children of a similar age to me is perhaps evidence of this.

"This is a job that requires me to be in two different places and I'm just trying to figure out the best way to do that and look after my children.

“The rental enables my family to be with me and stay with me when I am needed in London.

"The MP for Newbury is entitled to claim for accommodation in London under the IPSA rules.

“I am not alone in making this decision. To the best of my knowledge, every MP for Newbury in the last 60 years has had a residence in London.

“Therefore in having accommodation in London I am not doing anything that is either outside the rules or unusual for the Member of Parliament for Newbury despite what is being suggested.

"I'm deeply upset and hurt by the insinuation that I've done something wrong or improper because that is not the case at all."

Claims in more detail:

Mrs Farris on why she claimed £9,127.25 on travel expenses and £1,717.94 on hotel stays “during a year in which we have been in almost total lockdown”:

“For the first period I was an MP I commuted daily to London – sometimes by train and sometimes by car - and this is reflected in my travel costs.

“This started to become difficult as every Monday the voting does not get started until 10pm and by the time it finished I wasn't leaving the House of Commons until around midnight, which was too late to get the last train home from Paddington to Newbury.

“So I started to drive, but there were occasions I found myself arriving home after 1am. I would then get up to get my children ready for school at 6.30am and return to Parliament. I found it hard to do my job well in Westminster and I think many people would understand that.

“I then started using hotels on an ad-hoc basis during 2020 (Parliament was only closed for lockdown between late March and late May) and my £1,717.94 hotel claim covered about 12 nights in London.

“It wasn't until October 2020 that I decided to rent a flat – as am I entitled to do – because I did not like living out of a suitcase and frankly, did not feel safe checking in and out of hotels following late-night votes.

“At that time it looked like we were starting to get back to some kind of normal and I couldn't have foreseen at that time that we would be plunged into a further national lockdown where staying overnight was unlawful.

“Parliament has not operated totally as normal since then, but we have been attending the House.

“Of course, while Parliament is operating in a limited way any flat rental will be kept under active review."

On spending £1,596.71 on hiring an additional car:

"When I was first elected to Parliament my husband and I had one car which he also had to use for professional and personal use including with our children.

"Sometimes I hired a car on various occasions to get around the constituency if he needed our car.

"After about six months I bought a second-hand car out of my salary, which I now use, and there are no further car hire charges.

"I think it is reasonable that a newly-elected MP will spend some time getting themselves up and running and I would not have bought another car had I not needed one for constituency work.

"In our previous life we only needed one car, and for a time we tried to make this work in the new job."

On claiming £320.30 on parking tickets:

"These are not parking tickets in the sense of penalty tickets - but parking costs for when I leave my car and commute to London.

"At a cost of £6.45 per day I think it covers 49 days which is not the full extent of the number of times I have parked and been into Parliament in the 18 months since being elected."

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