Housing ministers all in expenses row

All three of the ministers responsible for housing have been caught up in the epicentre of the MPs' expenses scandal. They are Hazel Blears, Margaret Beckett and Iain Wright.

Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, allegedly changed the 'second home' designation of properties she owned three times in one year.

In March 2004, she said that her second home was a house in her Salford constituency, bought in June 1997. A month later, she redesignated a flat in London as her second home. She sold that flat, apparently without paying any Capital Gains Tax on the sale, and bought another London flat in the same year, which she claimed as her second home.

All three of the ministers responsible for housing have been caught up in the epicentre of the MPs' expenses scandal. They are Hazel Blears, Margaret Beckett and Iain Wright.

Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, allegedly changed the 'second home' designation of properties she owned three times in one year.

In March 2004, she said that her second home was a house in her Salford constituency, bought in June 1997. A month later, she redesignated a flat in London as her second home. She sold that flat, apparently without paying any Capital Gains Tax on the sale, and bought another London flat in the same year, which she claimed as her second home.

For each of her 'second homes', she was able to claim for goods such as televisions. The sale of a second home would normally attract Capital Gains Tax.

In between selling her first London flat and buying her second, she spent taxpayer-funded nights in hotels.

It also emerged that Iain Wright, junior housing minister, had also apparently benefited from the MPs' expenses system, claiming up to £19,740 a year for his second home, a flat in Westminster.

According to the Telegraph in April 2005, he asked the Commons fees office if he could buy furniture, at taxpayers' expense, even before he had purchased the property, saying he wanted to use up all his allowance for the year.

Apparently he was told that he should wait until after the general election to see if he would be returned as an MP: the election had been called just two days earlier.

According to the Telegraph, Wright wrote to the Commons fees office saying: "Today, I'm putting in a claim for £1,811 which includes £1,200 for things I've bought like bedding, kitchen equipment, etc. I haven't yet bought a house although I'm in the very early stages.

"It's still OK to claim isn't it? It seems stupid to carry it over into next year."

He defended himself by saying: "As a new MP, I purchased furniture and electrical equipment once I was in the process of purchasing a half share of a small two-bedroom flat in London."

Margaret Beckett, housing minister, is said to have submitted a £600 claim for hanging baskets and pot plants.

She has been accused of pocketing cash from renting out a London flat while living for free in a grace-and-favour home, and simultaneously claiming taxpayer-funded allowances on a third property.

She lived in a taxpayer-funded home in Carlton Gardens, Westminster, as Foreign Secretary in 2006. She was also claiming £106,000 in expenses for her constituency home in south Derbyshire.

According to the Commons Register of Members' Interests, she was also renting out a London flat.

Her tenant was apparently Labour MP Gillian Merron, who is also said to have claimed a second home allowance from the taxpayer.

Downing Street has defended the right of Cabinet ministers living in grace-and-favour apartments to claim a parliamentary allowance for a second home.

All of the MPs involved in the expenses row have denied any wrongdoing and say they have broken no rules.


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