Jacqui Smith - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


Thank you for your letter dated 7 May 2009. You sought advice as to whether Ms Smith was in breach of the rules in respect of claims for her Virgin Media package from March to December 2008 inclusive.

The July 2006 Green Book states in paragraph 3.13.1 that "telecommunications services" are an eligible expense against the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA). Beyond this it is silent.

The telecommunications product market is relatively complex with a variety of products and packages available to the consumer. The advice the Department gives to Members when guidance is requested is that they may claim only for a basic subscription to digital suppliers, which might include for example BBC News24, Sky News, Bloomberg etc. We would further advise that any additional services, such as access to Sky Movies or Sky Sports, would not be appropriate. However, additional services such as these can sometimes be rolled into a single low value package with the marginal cost of the additional subscription thus becoming relatively inexpensive if not zero.

In administrative terms it has not seemed a good use of staff time to investigate in detail the digital package in use by an individual Member unless we had cause for concern. It is often unclear from Members' claims whether additional subscription charges are included. It can also be difficult to distinguish between telephone, mobile, broadband and digital packages.

In her letter of 23 April 2009, Ms Smith notes that she has had a Virgin Media package which comprises telephone, line rental, broadband connection and television services. As a basic package this would be an acceptable claim against her ACA. However, in common with many Members, we received from Ms Smith only the monthly summary bill for payment, apart from one month which included an extra page in respect of 'on demand' items.

You asked for details of Ms Smith's claims for telecommunications services. Ms Smith claimed for her Virgin Media package during 2008 only. In that year she made claims covering eight months and seeking reimbursement for a total of £553.20. These claims were all paid in full. A summary of these claims and copies of the supporting documentation are attached.

The Department holds only summary invoices for all months apart from Ms Smith's claim for May 2008, received on 6 June. The May claim had with it supporting documentation that identified the cost of 'on demand' films. In my view, this is not eligible expenditure against ACA, a point Ms Smith has accepted in her letter to you of 23 April 2009.

Ms Smith's subsequent claims for her Virgin Media package (for September and October) were made with the same supporting invoice received with her May claim minus the page detailing the 'on demand' items . A member of staff wrote to her in November pointing this out (letter enclosed). Ms Smith's next claim for the Virgin package, which was in March 2009, included supporting invoices for June, July, November and December 2008.

My letter to Ms Smith of 8 April 2009 confirms repayment by her of the full cost of the television services previously reimbursed. Please let me know if you need any more information.

27 May 2009

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