Tory MPs are putting their rent payments worth tens of thousands of pounds on taxpayer-funded expenses while cutting housing benefit for the poorest tenants – with many MPs renting out properties for profit, the Observer can reveal.
Between April and November 2020 – the most recent month for which figures have been published – Conservative MPs claimed almost £3m in housing rent on expenses.
The Observer has identified 42 Conservative MPs who claim their own rent on expenses while at the same time renting out other residential properties for at least £10,000 a year in income. Among them are:
Kevin Hollinrake, who claimed £2,925 each month from April to November while owning a share of five different rental properties in York.
Paul Howell, elected in 2019 for the “red wall” seat of Sedgefield, who claimed £1,917.50 every month from April to November while renting out 16 different houses and flats across County Durham.
Paul Bristow, who claimed £10,500 of his own rent on expenses between April and November while renting out three residential properties in London.
Sixteen Tory MPs rent out residential property in London, according to the parliamentary register of interests, while claiming their own rent on expenses. They include Liam Fox, Geoffrey Cox, James Cleverly and Philip Davies.
There is no suggestion any of the MPs have broken any rules. Because non-London MPs have to work from two locations – London and their constituency – they can claim rental costs for one of those homes on expenses.
Hollinrake was the only MP to respond to a request for comment: “It is true I own properties other than my constituency home but they are not in or near London so I cannot make use of them for parliamentary purposes.
“When I was elected to Parliament in 2015, I knew it would mean a substantial reduction in earnings compared with my earnings in the private sector, which I was more than willing to accept to have the chance to try and make a difference to people’s lives. I do not consider it reasonable to have to pay my own accommodation expenses in London in addition to other costs incurred while living away from home in order to fulfil my role as a parliamentarian.”
The revelations come as the government freezes the local housing allowance (LHA) benefit this month, meaning tenants will get the same amount of money as last financial year, even where rents have risen by hundreds of pounds a year – effectively a benefit cut.
LHA is paid to private sector tenants on low incomes, in or out of work. However, only the lowest rents in each area are fully covered by LHA – those paying average rents are left with a shortfall that can drive them into debt.
By contrast, in October alone 54 Tory MPs claimed at least £2,000 each in housing rent on expenses – far higher than the LHA levels available to most tenants in London, let alone the rest of the country. Welfare secretary Thérèse Coffey, whose department runs the LHA system, claimed £1,885 a month.
A spokesperson for tenants’ union Acorn said: “To commit to this [LHA] freeze at the same time as huge swathes of the government’s own MPs are claiming extortionate amounts on expenses to pay rent on second homes is disgraceful and perfectly demonstrates the contempt with which they treat low-income people in this country – particularly given many of these MPs are claiming these expenses for second homes at the same time as raking in profit from homes they are renting out to tenants, while already taking home salaries far beyond what most people could ever imagine.”
The Tory MP claiming the highest rent expenses is Helen Whately, minister for social care. Despite earning £113,612 as an MP and minister, she claimed £3,250 in housing rent from the taxpayer each month between April and November 2020 – £26,000 in total during those eight months.
If Whately claims £3,250 a month for the whole of 2020/21, she will receive £39,000 towards her rent during the financial year. This is higher than the estimated average annual pay of her constituents, the average full-time earnings in the UK, the average nurse’s salary – and over double the average full-time care worker’s pay in 2019/20.