The Commons expenses watchdog has been criticised for failing to stop disgraced former MP Eric Joyce racking up debts of more than £10,000 at the taxpayers’ expense.
A review has found the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) was “complicit” as the former member for Falkirk filed invalid claims over a number of years.
Information given to Mr Joyce has been misleadingPeter Davis
No “decisive action” was taken despite clear evidence he was “persistently misusing” his official credit card, and he was given “contradictory and misleading” details about the size of his debt.
The findings came in a review by Ipsa compliance officer Peter Davis into the handling of the case. Joyce, who stepped down from the Commons at the election after being convicted of headbutting a Tory MP during a drunken bar brawl, had complained after Ipsa began docking his pay to recover nearly £13,000 of debt.
Some £6,200 of that was for credit card bills that the watchdog paid – before deciding they were not a valid expense. In December 2012 – ten months after his notorious Commons attack – he spent £896 on a two-night stay at the Park Plaza near Westminster, nearly treble the £150 a night limit.
The compliance officer concluded: “Ipsa has provided Mr Joyce with payment cards since 2010 and his misuse of the cards has been fairly consistent throughout the time he has held them. Ipsa has briefly suspended his card on several occasions when the MP has failed to provide information and supporting receipts at the end of a payment period.
“Had they taken decisive action when it became apparent that there was persistent misuse of the payment card, the accrued debt would have been a fraction of the figure it has become.”
The report pointed out that Ipsa told Mr Joyce in June 2014 that his debt was just £367. But by October officials were arguing it was £4,410.
“The information provided to Mr Joyce regarding the size of his payment card debt has been contradictory and misleading,” Mr Davis wrote.
“There has been no continuity in how his case was handled and no consistency of approach. The time taken to arrive at a definitive figure for his payment card debt is unsatisfactory.”
Mr Davis criticised Ipsa’s policy on whether MPs could claim for hotels they booked, but then did not use, as unclear. He ruled that £575 of debt for hotel “no shows” should be written off as they were “genuine and unavoidable”.
Mr Joyce’s accommodation claims were lower than many other politicians because he used hotels rather than renting a property, according to Mr Davis.
The former MP has also produced more evidence to back up other outlays. However, the report upheld the demand for £4,606.98 in excess card spending to be repaid.