12. In essence the complaint against Mr Hunt is that
he claimed expenses for a residence in his constituency which
were not wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when staying
away from his main home for the purpose of performing his parliamentary
duties; and that these may have provided a benefit from public
funds to a political organisation, contrary to the rules of the
13. I wrote to Mr Hunt on 11 June to invite his comments
on the allegation.
I asked him how long he had owned his constituency property and
the circumstances which had led him to designate it as his second
home; following the designation of the property, who had been
living at the property, for what period or periods, and on what
terms; the nature of the accommodation, and what accommodation
and other facilities at the property were available for use by
residents other than himself; the value and nature of the claims
he had made for this residence under the Additional Costs Allowance
for each financial year since he designated it as his second home;
his best estimate of the number of nights he had spent at the
property in each of the last five years; whether, to the best
of his knowledge, the terms on which his constituency agent was
employed took any account of the availability of accommodation
at his constituency residence; whether his constituency home was
used for party political activity at any time; whether, and if
so why, he considered the claims he made were within the scope
of the Additional Costs Allowance, taking account of the requirement
that public money should not be diverted for the benefit of a
political organisation; and what advice, if any, he had taken
from the House authorities about those arrangements.
14. Mr Hunt replied on 24 June.
He acknowledged at the outset that he might have made a mistake
over the arrangements under which his agent lived in his second
home, since with the benefit of hindsight he noted that it had
allowed accusations to be made about his use of parliamentary
funds; and if he had made a mistake he would seek to rectify it.
The issue had first been brought to his attention by the complainant
at a public meeting on 29 May. He had then contacted the Registrar
but, as she was unable to deal with the matter at that stage,
he had written to the House authorities the following day.
15. Mr Hunt said that when the issue was raised unexpectedly
at the public meeting on 29 May 2009, he had inadvertently made
a mistake about the dates his agent had stayed with him. He said,
"At the public meeting
I stated she was with me for 7 months, when in fact it was 19
months. I knew she had retired after the Waverley Borough Council
elections, but thought they were in 2006 when in fact they were
in 2007. I corrected the mistake on my blog as soon as I became
aware of it."
16. Mr Hunt outlined the chronology of events. He
had bought a property in Farnham in November 2003 for £185,000,
a year after his selection as the Conservative prospective parliamentary
candidate for the constituency. It was "a
two-up, two-down small terraced house".
His agent had been appointed by the local party at about the same
time, starting initially on a temporary basis. Mr Hunt commented,
"She rapidly became
a close friend as well as someone with whom I worked professionally."
Because it was felt that the commute, daily, from her home would
be too tiring, he and a number of others had offered her accommodation
"for the few nights
a week she needed to be in South West Surrey".
She had chosen to stay with him and "she
therefore had the use of a very small room free of charge during
the week. This arrangement continued until she retired in May
17. After Mr Hunt's election in May 2005, he had
initially designated his home in Farnham as his main home. Following
the summer recess it had become clear to him that because of his
parliamentary duties he was spending more nights every week in
London. He had therefore re-designated his Farnham home as his
second home from November 2005. As a result, his claims for mortgage
interest had fallen from around £1,400 a month to around
£600 a month. He commented that his agent "therefore
had the use of the room free of charge for 19 months while the
home was designated as my parliamentary second home. There was
no financial benefit to me or the Conservative Party."
18. Mr Hunt did not accept the essence of the complaint,
that he had claimed expenses for a residence in his constituency
that were not wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when
staying away from his main home for the purpose of performing
his parliamentary duties. He commented, "All
the expenses claimed were for myand only myuse of
the cottage in Farnham. Many MPs allow family and friends to stay
in their second homes, and there is no suggestion in the Green
Book that you are not allowed to do this."
Mr Hunt also did not accept that any of the expenses he had claimed
against the ACA had been incurred for purely political purposes.
He commented, "The
cottage was not used for political campaigning apart from the
occasional meeting (by 'occasional' I would estimate not more
than once or twice a year). Indeed it is much too small to be
used for campaigning - there is not even room for a proper table
downstairs. I accept that the arrangement probably strengthened
the excellent working arrangement I had with [my
agent]. However, by the
time my Farnham home became my parliamentary second home, it was
in essence a social arrangement with someone with whom a deep
friendship had been forged in the previous two years and for whom
I wished to reduce the stress of commuting mid-week
not stayed with me she would have stayed with other friends locally.
The Conservative party did not benefit financially from the arrangement
and would have been unaffected had the arrangement not taken place."
Mr Hunt added that the arrangement was one that had been in place
for two years prior to the Farnham property becoming his parliamentary
second home. His Farnham property becoming his parliamentary second
home "reduced the
cost to the taxpayer by nearly £10,000 per annum. I do not
therefore believe it can be said in any way that this was an arrangement
set up to divert funds from the taxpayer to the Conservative Party."
19. Mr Hunt added, "A
further consideration might be the equity I own in the house.
At the time it became a parliamentary second home, I owned around
30% of the equity in the house. As [my agent]
used half the house for half the week, it could be said that I
was giving her a quarter of the use of the property - less than
the equity share I own."
20. Mr Hunt conceded that his agent did indeed use
electricity and gas during her period staying in his Farnham property.
He commented, "As
it happens the standing order that pays those bills did not go
down when she left, so in practice there was no additional cost
to the taxpayer. However, this is probably more of a billing fluke
than anything else, and I accept that in practice the ACA did
cover some of [my agent's]
living costs in Farnham". He nonetheless
maintained that he "followed
parliamentary norms that dictate that it has always been acceptable
for friends and family to stay at parliamentary second homes and
for the ACA to cover their costs, even if they are not involved
in work relating to an MP's parliamentary duties".
He went on to say, "It
would be a significant change to the interpretation of the rules
if MPs were only allowed to charge for their own personal element
of the costs of second homes and not for other people who are
staying there. I therefore believed I was following normal practice
in undertaking the arrangement in the way I did."
21. As to whether providing accommodation for his
agent in his parliamentary second home might give rise to an accusation
that public money was being diverted for the benefit of a political
organisation, Mr Hunt commented, "This
is the area in which I am most uncertain. I do not believe public
money was 'diverted for the benefit of a political organisation'.
But with the benefit of hindsight I do accept that the arrangements
did allow political opponents to make accusations along those
lines. However it should be noted that during the period in question
from November 2005 to June 2007 no such accusations were made
even though [my agent]'s
use of the property was well-known."
22. Turning to other points related to the specific
questions I had put to him, Mr Hunt said he had not been aware
of any formal mechanism to demonstrate a change of designation
[(of a parliamentary second home)] but commented, "although
on reading the Green Book carefully I accept that I should have
written to the parliamentary authorities to notify them that I
had done this."
23. During the period when his Farnham home was designated
as his second home, Mr Hunt said that he lived there around two
nights a week (essentially coming down to the constituency for
constituency work on Fridays and for part of the weekend). His
agent stayed there "for
around three nights a week from November 2005 to June 2007".
No one else stayed there on a regular basis. The house was "extremely
small", and he and his agent shared
the use of the kitchen, bathroom and living room.
24. Mr Hunt's ACA claims for the relevant period
were as follows:
November 2005 - March 2006 £4,911
April 2006 - March 2007 £12,173
April 2007 - May 2007 £2,033.
25. Mr Hunt said that his agent's employment "did
not include a guarantee or even an offer of accommodation at my
constituency home". He enclosed a copy of his agent's
contract, which I noted made no reference to her accommodation.
Mr Hunt reiterated that his home was too small to be used for
political activity, although he had had "the odd meeting
with local volunteers on my campaign - the latter probably no
more than once or twice a year". He continued, "I
believe that the money I claimed from the ACA for my parliamentary
second home was wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when
staying away from home for the performance of my parliamentary
duties. Had the arrangement with [my agent] not taken place, there
would have been no less cost to the taxpayer. Nor did the Conservative
Party or my campaign receive any additional benefit as a result
of her staying there as she could easily have stayed elsewhere."
26. Mr Hunt said that he had not taken advice from
the House authorities on the arrangements until the matter had
been brought to his attention at the public meeting on 29 May
27. Mr Hunt said that the other person on the electoral
roll for the Farnham property had worked as his press officer
until December 2005. She had spent time at the property until
the 2005 General Election, but after that she did not stay there
on a regular basis and "having
spoken to her I believe it was on no more than a couple of occasions".
She was removed from the electoral roll in the year after she
left Mr Hunt's employment.
28. Mr Hunt provided me with a printout of his electronic
diaries to corroborate his account of the use he had made of the
Farnham property, and indicated, for each week, the number of
nights he believed he had spent there. Mr Hunt's estimated totals
were as follows:
November 2005 - March 2006: 31
April 2006 - March 2007: 61
April 2007 - May 2007: 10
29. I wrote to Mr Hunt on 30 June to ask for further
information. I said
that in many cases it was not clear to me which night of the relevant
week he had in mind, nor which engagement he was relying on as
corroboration; nor was it clear whether the engagement was of
a parliamentary character rather than personal or party political.
Mr Hunt replied on 1 July with the information I had asked for,
and identifying a number of additional nights he believed he had
spent at the property.
30. I wrote again to Mr Hunt on 6 July
and attached to my letter a schedule showing the summary of nights
in his constituency based on his original estimate and the slight
revisions I proposed based on the further information he had provided.
There was very little difference between the two. My estimates
of the number of nights Mr Hunt spent at his Farnham property
in connection with his parliamentary duties in the relevant period
were as follows:
November 2005 - March 2006: 34
April 2006 - March 2007: 60
April 2007 - May 2007: 9
31. Meanwhile, I had written on 30 June to the Director
of Operations in the Department of Resources to ask for his advice
and comments on the complaint.
I asked when Mr Hunt had notified the Department of the change
in the designation of his main home; whether in the circumstances
described by Mr Hunt it was within the rules of the House for
the property against which he made ACA claims to be regularly
used by another person, in this case his constituency agent who
was also a close friend; and whether, in those circumstances,
it was within the rules of the House for the Member to make in
his claims no allowance for the benefit in terms of accommodation
and outgoings received by that other person, taking account of
the extent to which the Member and his agent respectively made
use of the house. On 6 July, I wrote again to the Director, to
let him know the outcome of my more detailed checks on Mr Hunt's
diary, to which I had referred in my earlier letter.
32. On 20 July the Director of Strategic Projects
replied to my letter on behalf of the Department of Resources.
 He noted that Mr
Hunt had claimed ACA against his London home from 5 May to 31
October 2005, and against his Farnham home from 1 November 2005.
His amended designation form had been signed and dated 6 January
2006. The Director commented that, although Members were "strongly
advised" against subletting or renting
out any part of a property on which ACA was claimed, if no rent
was paid to the Member - as it was not in Mr Hunt's case - there
was no rule which governed who might or might not live in, or
stay at, a home on which ACA was claimed. He commented "In
these circumstances, I do not believe that [his
agent's] occupancy of the
house was outwith the rules."
He added that, from the evidence I had sent him, there appeared
to be no evidence that the agent's occupancy was either part of
her emoluments or was for the purpose of political activity.
33. The Director went on to say that the Green Book
made it clear that Members could not claim under the ACA for the
living costs of anyone other than themselves. The implication
of Mr Hunt's evidence was that he had not abated the costs which
he charged to the House in respect of his agent's occupation of
the property. It would in his view have been appropriate for him
to have done so in respect of charges such as fuel consumed. The
question of mortgage interest costs was in his view different,
since they were unaffected by Mr Hunt's agent's occupation of
the house. This principle applied to other fixed costs, though
possibly not to council tax if Mr Hunt had been eligible for a
single occupancy discount.
34. I wrote to Mr Hunt on 22 July
enclosing copies of my correspondence with the Department of Resources,
drawing his attention to the Department's views, and inviting
35. Mr Hunt responded on 25 July.
He described himself as "broadly
happy" with the views of the Department
of Resources, and continued:
"I do perhaps have a small question over
the suggestion that I should have reduced the bills. This is not
really over the principle. It is more that the rules do not mention
this as something that should be considered and the norm is clearly
for MPs to have friends and family to stay in their second homes
without refunding any of the additional costs incurred. It would
therefore be useful to have clarification as to when this should
or should not be a consideration."
36. While I was preparing to interview Mr Hunt, the
Director of Strategic Projects in the Department of Resources
wrote to me again on 20 August.
He said that the Department had looked further at the papers
it held in relation to Mr Hunt's ACA claims. He stated that, on
11 May 2005, Mr Hunt nominated his London address as his second
home, and this was repeated on a nomination form of August 2005.
On 6 January 2006, Mr Hunt had signed two nomination forms. One
gave the address of his main home as his London address, and the
address of his second home as his Farnham address. The other gave
the address of his main home as his Farnham address, and the address
of his second home as his London address. The Director commented,
"It appears that the second of these nominations was regarded
by the Department as made in error."
37. As to Mr Hunt's claims, the Director reported
that Mr Hunt had made two claims on 6 January 2006. One was for
mortgage interest against his London home for the period ending
31 October 2006, which the Director assumed was an error for 31
October 2005; the other was for mortgage interest and other costs
against his Farnham home in respect of the period from 1 November
2005 to 6 January 2006. The Director went on to say that on 8
November 2005, Mr Hunt had submitted a claim against his Farnham
address for utilities, council tax, telephones and food (but
no mortgage) for the period May to October 2005. He commented,
"If this was a claim
for this period, it should have been in respect of his nominated
second homehis London address. There is no evidence that
this issue was picked up at the time."
The Director said that there appeared to be some matters that
should be taken up with Mr Hunt, and asked if I would want to
do it myself.
38. I wrote the Director on 1 September to say that
I had decided that I did need to deal with the additional matter
he had raised as it dealt with a period when Mr Hunt's Farnham
house was being used by his friend and agent and because it raised
some potential uncertainties about the timing and intentions of
Mr Hunt in changing the designation of his second home from London
39. I wrote to Mr Hunt on 1 September, enclosing
a copy of the Director's letter.
I commented that there appeared to be some uncertainty about
the forms he had submitted in January 2006 in relation to his
decision to change the nomination of his second home to his Farnham
property from the end of October 2005. I noted that it seemed
he had also made a claim against the ACA in respect of that property
for utilities, council tax, telephones and food for the period
May to October 2005, when that property was still designated as
his main home, rather than his second home. Although this did
not form part of Mr Simpson's complaint, I told Mr Hunt that I
nonetheless needed to resolve this matter as it affected the factual
description of the claims he had made for his Farnham property
during the period when it was also being used by his constituency
40. I therefore invited Mr Hunt's comments on this
ACA claim, including how it came about and whether he considered
it to have been a mistake. I also said that it would be helpful
to have some clarification of why he had submitted two forms in
January 2006, one identifying London as his main home and the
other identifying Farnham.
41. Mr Hunt replied on 10 September.
He confirmed that he had changed the designation of his second
home from 1 November 2005, and that he did not submit any expense
claims until that point, something that "was
not, with hindsight, wise". He had
staff to prepare all my expense claims for [him]
without scrutinising them closely".
One of the mistakes made, as identified correctly by the Fees
Office, was that the date for mortgage interest claimed said 2006
when it should have said 2005. The other mistake was that, for
the period May to October 2005, he had claimed for utility expenses
at his Farnham home, instead of his London home which, during
that period, was his designated second home. He commented, "I
think the reason this happened was when my staff member prepared
the claim I had already changed the designation of the second
home from London to Farnham and so he was confused. It is a mistake
that I should have picked up but did not before the claim was
signed off." He continued, "Because
the Farnham house is considerably smaller than the London house
the utilities bills would have been lower in Farnham so this mistake
actually benefited the taxpayer rather than myself. Nonetheless,
I have decided to repay the amount in full and a cheque has been
sent to the Fees Office."
42. Mr Hunt concluded by saying that he
"had always taken the view that it is important to be
as transparent as possible about any mistakes in [his]
expenses". He enclosed a copy
of a webpage he had published in the last week of June. At that
stage he "thought
it may have been a clerical mistake with the wrong address being
listed". However, he now believed
claim was made for the wrong
home". He had updated his website
43. The original webpage, which Mr Hunt noted on
the webpage as published in the last week of June 2009, stated,
"During the period
that my second home was designated as my London home (my first
five months as an MP) I may have mistakenly claimed for utility
bills on my Farnham instead of my London home. This was a clerical
mistake caused, I think, because I did not claim anything for
five months and by the time I made the claim I had already changed
the designation of my second home to Farnham. The member of my
staff who prepared the expenses form for me to sign therefore
filled out the form with the Farnham rather than the London utility
expenses. If that happened then it will have saved the taxpayer
money because the Farnham house is smaller than the London one."
44. The subsequent webpage, as it was in September
2009, stated, "During
the period that my second home was designated as my London home
(my first five months as an MP) I now believe I mistakenly claimed
for utility bills on my Farnham instead of my London home. This
was a clerical mistake caused, I think, because I did not claim
anything for five months and by the time I made the claim I had
already changed the designation of my second home to Farnham.
The member of my staff who prepared the expenses form for me to
sign therefore filled out the form with the Farnham rather than
the London utility expensesa mistake for which I accept
full responsibility. Because the London home is bigger that mistake
will actually have saved the taxpayer money. However because it
was a claim on the wrong home, I have now repaid the claim in
45. I replied to Mr Hunt on 22 September.
I asked for a response to the other point I had raised in my letter
of 1 Septemberwhy he had submitted two forms in January
2006, one identifying London as his main home, and the other Farnham.
He responded on 24 September. 
He explained that although the two claims were submitted on the
same date in January, one referred to the period when his London
home was his designated second home and the other to the period
when his Farnham home was so designated.
46. On 30 September, I copied to the Department of
Resources my letters to Mr Hunt of 1 and 22 September, and Mr
Hunt's responses, and inviting any comments they wished to make.
The Director of Strategic Projects replied on 1 October, commenting,
"I can understand
how Mr Hunt may have thought that he needed to submit these notifications
to complement the claims which he submitted on the same day in
respect of the two addresses".
I sent a copy of this exchange of correspondence to Mr Hunt on
the same day, 1 October.
He replied on 2 October, saying that he had submitted the two
notification forms, citing different addresses for his second
home, "to highlight
the fact that the claims submitted on 6 January 2006 referred
to different properties since between these periods I had changed
the designation of my main home from
47. I met Mr Hunt for interview on 12 November.
 He confirmed that
he had purchased his Farnham property in November 2003 for £185,000.
He had initially financed the purchase by increasing the mortgage
on his London home. In November 2005, he had transferred £150,000
of that mortgage to the Farnham property. He also confirmed that,
from November 2003, his constituency agent spent around three
nights a week at the property. She had started working on a two
month temporary employment contract in November/December 2003,
and had started again in the spring of 2004. She had stopped living
at Mr Hunt's house when she finished the temporary appointment,
and started staying there again when reappointed until "the
Waverley elections in May 2007 but then she came back for our
final AGM and a farewell in June. Her formal retirement was in
June". Mr Hunt agreed that he had
himself spent on average between one and two nights a week at
the Farnham property during the period when his agent had also
48. Mr Hunt confirmed that he had designated his
Farnham property as his second home in November 2005, after which
he had made ACA claims on the property. He accepted that he had
mistakenly claimed for food, utilities, council tax and telephone
charges in respect of this property for the period May to October
2005 when it was in fact his main home. He had repaid the full
cost of this claim in September 2009. He had made no charge to
the agent for the use of the property, and made no abatement of
his claims against the ACA to reflect his agent's use of it. He
had also claimed full council tax.
49. Mr Hunt accepted that his agent spent about twice
as much time at the Farnham property than he did. Mr Hunt said
that, if his agent had left any personal possessions in the property,
they would have been very few, "She
used to pack up her suitcase when she left each week. She might
have left some small items, perhaps in the little cupboard in
but nothing in the rest of the house".
She did not provide additional furniture or decorate her room,
nor to his knowledge did she entertain her own friends or have
them to stay. As to catering and food buying, Mr Hunt said, "I
was there at the end of the week and she was there in the middle
of the week, so we didn't often coincide. If we did, she might
buy a supermarket ready meal which we shared. I don't think she
ate any of the food I boughtI ate more of her food than
she did of mine."
50. Mr Hunt described his constituency as "very
active". Had he spent "ten
or twelve hours a week commuting,
would have spent less time on constituency work".
He pointed out that his predecessor had a second home. His constituency
wanted "a very active
I want to deliver this and it would be a lot harder
if I had to commute
having the second home meant that I
did more work for my constituents."
He believed he had made "a
right judgement when I set up a home in the constituency."
Mr Hunt believed that the house gave him good value, describing
it as "an absolute
godsend. I have a dispersed constituency and although we have
an office I don't have a computer and desk there. So if I was
in the constituency I would often spend about an hour and a half
in my home there in the middle of the day seeing to my emails."
He said it was "a
modest house that helped me to do a lot more for my constituents."
51. Mr Hunt accepted that his expense claims had
included his agent's share of the living costs. He said, "My
agent used electricity and hot water while she was there, even
though there was no increase in the electricity bills. I think
I made a wrong judgement in not reducing claims for the utility
bills and the mortgage."
Mr Hunt explained that, taken literally, the requirement for expenses
to be 'wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred' "would
mean that no spouses or children could ever use a Member's second
home funded by the allowances, or use the electricity or water.
It would mean that I couldn't give someone a lift if my travel
was paid for by Parliament, or share a bottle of milk. I took
it that it was not meant to be taken absolutely literally, but
that there was some leeway". He added,
"I treated my Farnham
house as my home. I believed that the Green Book allowed family
and friends to stay on an occasional basis, equivalent to the
way they could stay in my main home. I recognise that this wasn't
occasional, but there was no definition of what was and was not
I now believe my judgement was wrong. I have
explained why I made it."
52. Mr Hunt commented on the
similarities of his own case to another recent inquiry of mine,
which also involved others living in a Member's second home against
which allowances were claimed.
He said "The Member
did not abate the mortgage costs charged to the allowances. I
did not abate living costs, but I would agree that if you abate
the costs there is a strong argument for including the mortgage
costs in the abatement. The argument about whether the expenses
claimed were 'wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred' is
relevant to both complaints". He
went on to say, "The
differences are that my second home was not the main home of the
person who stayed in it. My agent had a home in
[another county] where she paid council tax and other costs.
Then there was no financial benefit to my agent, to me or to the
local party. Although my agent received a benefit, had we known
the outcome she would have stayed with someone else; there were
plenty of offers
This did not cost the taxpayer any extra
except perhaps my agent's share of the utility bills
was not set up as an arrangement to take advantage of parliamentary
expenses. It started in 2003, before I was elected, so it predated
my use of those allowances."
53. Mr Hunt thought he "was
doing the right thing when I transferred my mortgage and designated
the smaller house as my second home, as it would cost the taxpayer
less". His agent "would
have been horrified at the suggestion that she was trying to get
something she was not entitled to from the taxpayer."
He agreed that the use of his Farnham house enabled his agent
to do her job more easily but noted that "others
offered her the use of their homes nearer her office. It was immaterial
where she stayed."
54. On his eligibility for council tax discount on
his Farnham property if he had lived alone at the property, Mr
Hunt commented, "I
should have claimed it from the start. I could have had a single
person's reduction even when my agent was staying there. I have
now had a share of my council tax refunded and I have passed the
money to the Fees Office."
55. Mr Hunt told me that he did not wish to pursue
the argument in his letter of 24 June
that he owned outright a proportion of the equity of his Farnham
home and was therefore free to allow others to use the property
to a similar proportionate extent. He agreed that "it
is reasonable" for the rules of the
House to cover the whole property.
56. Mr Hunt accepted that he was "at
fault" in not being aware of the
July 2006 clarification of the rules regarding the avoidance of
arrangements that might give rise to an accusation that a Member,
or someone close to them, was obtaining an immediate benefit or
subsidy from public funds. He agreed that his arrangement by which
his agent used his Farnham property rent free represented such
a benefit or subsidy to her. He commented, "I
made a wrong judgement on that. The reason was that I looked at
the Green Book rules and thought they should not be interpreted
literally, because otherwise no-one apart from the Member could
stay in a parliamentary second home. It was the wrong judgement,
not least because it gave rise to the possibility of an accusation
- even if in reality there were no additional costs. It allowed
the accusation to be made."
57. Mr Hunt went on to say, "I
can say that we never hid this arrangement. My agent appeared
on the electoral roll. It was quite public. The previous Liberal
Democrat candidate was aware of it and hadn't mentioned it at
all. But I accept it allowed accusations to be made."
58. Mr Hunt said that he was "hesitating"
about whether his agent in fact derived any personal benefit from
her use of his Farnham property, "The
reason is that while there was a benefit in being given a bed
for the night, I am resiling from saying that there was a financial
gain because if my agent had not stayed with me, she would have
been able and happy to stay elsewhere. I thought it was within
the latitude allowed for her to stay with me. That was clearly
He recognised that there was a distinction to be drawn between
a benefit from public funds and a benefit from private funds,
and commented, "But
I am worried that if you say that there was a benefit from public
funds people who are not familiar with the detail will make the
assumption that there was a transfer of public funds. That would
be completely different. There was no transfer of funds and no
taxpayers' money went to my agent."
59. Referring to whether there had been any political
benefit from his agent staying with him, Mr Hunt said, "Is
there a political benefit from having discussions with a close
friend about your political career? That would be a heavy handed
use of the phrase. No public funds were used to give a benefit
to the Conservative Party. The accounts of the constituency association
were completely unaffected. Is there benefit in spending time
together in this way? Of course there isbut political benefit?
No. Socially, yes I did benefit."
Mr Hunt said that he wanted "to
avoid the suggestion that if [my agent]
had not stayed with me, the Conservatives would have put her up
in a hotel. That is not the case."
60. In his letter of 24 June,
Mr Hunt had said that his Farnham property was not used for the
purpose of political campaigning, but had been used for occasional
political meetings. At the interview, he described the nature
of those meetings: "I
may have said to councillors, 'Let's
have coffee or a discussion in my house, to talk about the forthcoming
The property was "just
a place to meet". As to whether his
agent used the property for political purposes in his absence,
Mr Hunt said, "She
didn't view the place as her own house; she treated it as a borrowed
home and she packed up her things each week when she went home.
She was punctilious. Of course I don't know exactly what she did,
but she worked very long hours in her office in Hindhead until
9 or 10 pm. Then she would come home and crash out. She did not
work in the cottage. She never hid anything, but our meetings
were in the office in Hindhead, not at home. She would only be
in the house to get her head down for the night."
As to constituents or party members calling or telephoning, he
said that this did not happen much "The
house is not big enough. I have had other meetings, not party
political ones, with constituents there. But it was only a handful
of meetings. It is the same now: it is not really practical to
hold them there."
Mr Hunt nonetheless accepted that he had "made
the wrong judgement" in that his
arrangements had enabled accusations to be made that he was diverting
public money for the benefit of a political organisation.
61. Turning to the time he had taken to notify the
Department of Resources of changes of designation of his main
home, Mr Hunt said, "I
accept that a lot of mistakes were made, and they have caused
me a lot of embarrassment. I have explained them on my website.
In that six month period I came from running my own company where
I didn't do my own administration. I arrived in Parliament where
I had no secretary and no office for the first two months
Claims were the last thing on my mind at that stage. I had a lot
of turmoil as I assembled a team around me, and some of my staff
worked for me only for a short period. Admin is not my strongest
point, so I made no claims until November. I left it until January
to submit my change of designation."
Mr Hunt agreed that a designation of his Farnham property as
his main home submitted at the same time was intended to cover
a claim for mortgage interest on his London home up to October
2005. As to why, having already twice nominated London as his
main home he needed to do it again in January 2006, he commented,
"I don't know. I
suspect I thought I had to because I was making a late claim.
My office would have assembled the claim."
62. Mr Hunt went on to explain why he had not repaid
until September 2009 the mistaken claim for expenses incurred
in respect of his Farnham property for May to October 2005, when
it was designated as his main residence. He said "After
London had became my main home, through a clerical mistake I claimed
for Farnham not London for the earlier period in 2005 when Farnham
was my main home. I found out about the mistake this summer but
I let it go then because the claim was lower than it would have
been had I claimed for London as my second home. So the taxpayer
has benefited. The Fees Office agreed that I saved the taxpayer
money. But the climate has changed, and I felt that if the claim
was not absolutely right then it needs to be repaid."
He also confirmed that he had not claimed for his second home
in the same period. He believed that the confusion may have occurred
because he had as many as possible of the utility and other bills
for both properties sent to his parliamentary office, where his
staff could access them.
63. As to steps Mr Hunt was taking to avoid a recurrence
of claims for the wrong property, Mr Hunt said, "I
go through [the
claims] like a hawk.
This is public money and we should take great care over it.
I have new staff in my office and we now have much stricter procedures.
We are much more careful about submitting claims."
As to why he had initially indicated that since there was no loss
to the public purse he did not intend to repay the claim, Mr Hunt
said, "I wasn't
sure whether the expenses were for the right home but with the
wrong address written on the claim form. As it just so happens
my council tax bills in London and Farnham are the same to within
£1. So initially, when I was alerted to the problem with
the form, I thought that maybe these were expenses for my London
house, but the form had the wrong address on it. It was just coincidence
that the sums were similar. I have now repaid the money."
As to the steps he had taken to find out what had led to him making
an incorrect claim, Mr Hunt said, "I
thought I had established that these were expenses for my London
house. But when you raised the issue, I looked more closely at
64. Mr Hunt accepted the suggestion that, from November
2005, if it had been necessary for his agent to live in his Farnham
property, he should have reduced his ACA claim to reflect his
agent's living costs there, and by not doing so she received a
personal and immediate benefit from public funds. He said, "I
accept that I made a wrong judgement. That is clear from reading
the Committee's ruling on another recent complaint.
not pro rata the living costs, including mortgage costs, for which
I claimed, according to the number of nights in the house. I am
willing to repay half the entire living and mortgage costs for
which I claimed during the entire period."
He added, "I would
be grateful if you would acknowledge that there has been no financial
benefit to me. This was a misinterpretation of the rules made
in good faith."
65. Mr Hunt wrote to me finally on 18 November.
He asked me to convey his apologies to the Committee on Standards
and Privileges for "the
mistakes I made in my claims for ACA between November 2005 and
June 2007". He said that had allowed
his agent to stay in his parliamentary second home in Farnham
for around three nights a week, in an arrangement designed to
save her having commute daily to her main home. He had interpreted
the rules to mean that he did not need to reduce the amount he
claimed for council tax, utilities and mortgage interest while
that arrangement took place. He accepted that his interpretation
had been wrong. He said, "I
apologise unreservedly for the mistake."
Findings of Fact
66. Mr Hunt purchased a small property in Farnham
in November 2003, a year after he was selected as the Conservative
Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the South West
Surrey constituency. Following his election to Parliament in May
2005, Mr Hunt had nominated this property as his main home for
the purpose of his claims against the Additional Costs Allowance
(ACA). In January 2006, he re-designated it as his second home
with effect from 1 November 2005, from which point he has claimed
against the ACA for the costs of this home.
67. A new agent had been appointed by Mr Hunt's local
party at about the same time as he had purchased his Farnham property.
In order to save her a lengthy commute he had given her the shared
use of the house, free of charge, during the week. Others in the
constituency had also offered her rent-free accommodation. Her
employment contract made no reference to the provision of accommodation.
From November 2003 until her retirement in June 2007, she stayed
at the property for about three nights a week, and became a personal
friend of Mr Hunt. He himself spent on average between one and
two nights a week in the property. Mr Hunt claimed a total of
£19,117 against the ACA in respect of the property during
the period between its designation as his second home and the
retirement of his agent. He did not reduce the claims he made
to reflect his agent's use.
68. Another person who had been on the electoral
roll at the property had not stayed there on more than a couple
of occasions after the General Election. She had left Mr Hunt's
employment in December 2005.
69. Mr Hunt wrongly claimed against the ACA for utilities,
council tax, telephone and food in respect of his Farnham property
for the period May to October 2005, a period when it was nominated
as his main home. He claimed for mortgage interest in respect
of his London home for the same period. He made no other ACA claims
in respect of his London home for this period.
70. The Department of Resources' view was given before
the publication of the Committee's Report on Mr Tony McNulty,
the Member for Harrow East.
It was that, provided no rent was paid, there was no rule which
governed who might or might not live in, or stay at, a home on
which ACA was claimed. However, as Members could not claim under
the ACA for the living costs of anyone other than themselves,
it would have been appropriate for Mr Hunt to have abated the
costs charged to the House in respect of the agent's occupation
of the property for such charges as fuel consumed and possibly
council tax, but not for mortgage interest which was unaffected
by the agent's occupation of the property. The Department considers
that there is no evidence that the agent's use of the property
was either part of her emolument or for the purpose of political
71. Mr Hunt has from the outset acknowledged that
he may have made a mistake over his arrangements. He accepts that
he continued to provide his constituency agent with rent-free
accommodation after he had started to make claims for his Farnham
property as his second home, making no allowance for the full
living costs of her use of the property. He considers that his
agent received no financial benefit from the arrangement. She
could have stayed with others in the constituency free of charge.
Mr Hunt considers that his claims did not have the effect of diverting
public money for the benefit of his political party, since the
property was not used for party political purposes and because
the party would not anyway have paid for his agent's accommodation
costs. Mr Hunt has, however, accepted that he made a wrong judgement
in not abating his agent's full living costs, including a proportion
of the mortgage interest, in the claims he made against his additional
costs allowance. He has unreservedly apologised. He has offered
to repay half of his ACA claims for the period when his agent
had use of the property (£9,558.50). Mr Hunt has also accepted
that he made an error in claims for utilities and other items
for his Farnham home in 2005 when it was still designated as his
main home. He has repaid the sum involved, £1,996, in full.
He has repaid the differential between his full and his discounted
council tax (£466).
72. The question I am to determine is whether Mr
Hunt was in breach of the rules of the House in providing to his
constituency agent rent-free accommodation in his parliamentary-funded
constituency home in Farnham from November 2005 until June 2007.
73. I need also to determine ancillary matters: the
notification by Mr Hunt of the change in the designation of his
main home from Farnham to London in November 2005, and claims
he mistakenly made for his Farnham property while it was still
designated as his main home.
MR HUNT'S USE OF HIS FARNHAM PROPERTY
74. I consider first Mr Hunt's decision to provide
rent-free accommodation to his agent.
a) Mr Hunt's sharing arrangement
75. Mr Hunt has fully accepted in the light of the
Committee's Tenth Report of Session 2008-09
that he was in breach of the rules of the House in claiming from
his Additional Costs Allowance the full mortgage interest on his
Farnham property, and for his utilities, council tax and phone
bills in full. This is because Mr Hunt's claims made no allowance
for his agent's use of the property. Mr Hunt has apologised unreservedly.
He has offered to pay back half the costs he claimed from his
Additional Costs Allowance from November 2005 to June 2007. The
amount claimed from his ACA over the period is £19,117.
76. Mr Hunt's arrangement to provide rent free accommodation
for his agent started in November 2003, well before he was elected
to Parliament in May 2005. It continued while the Farnham property
was his main home, from May 2005 to November 2005. Up to that
point, the arrangement raised no problems in terms of compliance
with the rules of the House. Once it became his second home, however,
as it did in November 2005, Mr Hunt was in my judgement in breach
of the rules in continuing the arrangement while claiming against
his parliamentary allowances for the full costs of the property.
77. Mr Hunt has accepted that he was mistaken in
his judgement that his arrangements were equivalent to visitors
staying occasionally in a Member's home. Mr Hunt is, in my view,
correct in thinking that it would be unreasonable to prevent a
Member having guests to stay overnight at their additional home,
even, on occasions, when they may not themselves be present. I
accept Mr Hunt's evidence that his then press officer stayed in
the house for only a few occasions after the May 2005 election
and I judge that she therefore fell into that category. But there
comes a point where the overnight guest turns into, in effect,
a lodger. There comes a point where the property is being shared
by that other person or persons. Mr Hunt's arrangements were well
past those points. His lodger was staying overnight in the house
for some three nights a week over a period of some 19 months while
she was employed as the agent for the constituency.
b) Were political funds diverted to a political
78. The kernel of the complainant's concern was that
Mr Hunt's arrangement diverted public money for the benefit of
a political organisation. The allegation is a serious one. I have
no evidence to sustain it. The agent's contract made no allowance
for, or reference to, free accommodation. There is no evidence
that the party was prepared to pay the agent's accommodation costs.
It made no financial saving from Mr Hunt's arrangement.
79. I consider Mr Hunt's evidence credible that the
house (which is small) was not used in any significant way for
party political activity, either by him or by his constituency
80. I have considered whether it could be argued
that there was some less tangible benefit to the party. It could
be argued that, because the arrangement helped the agent do her
job better (by saving her from a long commute), the party benefited.
The fact that the agent could have received a similar benefit
from staying with someone else in the constituency does not detract
from the point that in fact she stayed with Mr Hunt. It might
also be argued that the social benefit which the arrangement brought
must also have rubbed off on their professional relationship,
to the benefit of the political party. But I consider that these
possibilities, while reasonable in themselves, are a long way
from sustaining an allegation that Mr Hunt breached the rules
of the House because his arrangement permitted the diversion of
public funds to a political party. There is no evidence that public
funds were diverted in this way. I do not, therefore, uphold this
part of the complaint.
c) Was there a benefit to another person?
81. I consider, however, that Mr Hunt was in breach
of the rules of the House in his arrangements because his claims
against his Additional Costs Allowance included the living costs
of someone other than himself. Public funds were, therefore, used
to provide a benefit to that person. I accept Mr Hunt's evidence
that that person, his constituency agent, could have obtained
the same benefit, namely rent-free accommodation, from others
in the constituency. But the benefit would then have been provided
through private funds and not through public funds. I accept also
that, with the possible exception of utility costs, Mr Hunt's
claims would not have been significantly less had the constituency
agent not been sharing the house. I do not believe Mr Hunt received
any real financial benefit from the arrangement. Nor is there
any evidence that his agent acted improperly in any way.
d) Was Mr Hunt open to credible accusations?
82. Mr Hunt has also recognised that the July 2006
Green Book rules state that Members must avoid any arrangement
that may give rise to an accusation that they or someone close
to them is obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public
funds or that public money is being diverted for the benefit of
a political organisation (rule 3.3.2). Mr Hunt has fairly accepted
that his arrangements have indeed brought accusations both of
personal benefit and of the diversion of public funds for political
benefit. I have found that, in fact, there was a personal benefit
from public funds. But there was no diversion of public funds
for the benefit of a political organisation. Nevertheless, the
accusation has been made. It would be in my judgement unreasonable
that a Member should be held to have fallen foul of this rule
if any accusation or allegation is made against them, however
ill-founded or unreasonable. But in this instance, I think that
Mr Hunt is right to note that his arrangements have allowed these
accusations to be made against him.
83. I have found Mr Hunt in breach on the substantive
issue, namely that his claims covered the living costs of someone
other than himself and so provided a benefit to them from public
funds. I do not believe that it would be reasonable in these circumstances
also to make a separate finding of a breach against Mr Hunt because
his arrangements allowed this accusation to be made. Mr Hunt should,
however, have been able to avoid these accusations, either by
charging his constituency agent a full rate for the use of his
house once it had been designated as his parliamentary second
home, producing a written agreement which he sent to the House
authorities, and reducing his claims by the full cost of her accommodation,
or by ensuring that once he had decided to claim for the house
as his second home, she stayed elsewhere. The latter arrangement
would have been more straightforward and in my view preferable.
84. In the course of this inquiry, Mr Hunt and the
House authorities have identified some other issues which are
ancillary to my inquiry. They were as follows:
85. Mr Hunt changed the designation of his main home
from Farnham to London in November 2005. The rules required that
a Member notify the Department of such a change in designation
"promptly". Mr Hunt notified the Department in January
2006, some two months after the change. Mr Hunt could have been
more prompt in his notification, but I do not believe it would
be reasonable to suggest he was in breach of the rules of the
House in not notifying the Department earlier.
b) Claims on Mr Hunt's main home
86. Mr Hunt has readily accepted that he was in error,
and in breach of the rules of the House, in making a claim for
utilities and other services on his Farnham home in the period
during which it was still his main home. He has repaid the sum
claimed, £1,996, in full. It is clear that, as a new Member
in May 2005, his office arrangements were at best disorganised.
I accept that the mistake was made in Mr Hunt's office and that
Mr Hunt did not pick it up when he signed off his claim form.
He would, of course, have been entitled to have made a claim for
utilities and other services on what was then his second home,
his property in London, and so it is very unlikely that there
was any loss to the public purse by the mistake, rather the reverse.
But Members' claims have to be both accurate and transparent,
and it is right that Mr Hunt should have accepted that his claim
was in breach of the rules, and that he should therefore apologise,
and repay it. I welcome his assurance that he and his office are
now much more careful about his claims.
87. My conclusion, therefore, is that Mr Hunt did
not divert public money for the benefit of his political party
by providing rent-free accommodation to his constituency agent
from November 2005 to June 2007. I do not, therefore, uphold this
part of the complaint. But Mr Hunt was in breach of the rules
in not reducing his claims on the Additional Costs Allowance in
that period to take full account of his agent's living costs.
As a result, public funds provided a benefit to the constituency
agent, a benefit which I accept she would otherwise have received
through private funds by staying rent-free elsewhere. I therefore
uphold this part of the complaint. Mr Hunt was also in breach
of the rules in mistakenly claiming for utilities and other services
on his Farnham property when it was still his main home. This
breach did not form part of the complaint.
88. I consider it a serious matter that Mr Hunt allowed
his constituency agent to stay with him in his second home rent-free
while claiming the full costs from parliamentary allowances. But
I accept that Mr Hunt received no real financial benefit from
the arrangement and that the error was caused by his misinterpretation
of the rules. The Committee will wish to note his unreserved apology
and his offer to pay back half of all the costs he claimed for
this property over the period for which it was used also by his
3 December 2009 John Lyon CB
22 WE 1 Back
WE 2 Back
See Appendix I to WE 2. Back
See Appendix 2 to WE 2. Back
WE 3 Back
WE 4 Back
WE 5 Back
WE 6 Back
WE 7 Back
WE 8 Back
WE 9 Back
WE 10 Back
WE 11 Back
This letter predated the Report of the Committee on Standards
and Privileges on Mr Tony McNulty (Tenth Report of Session 2008-09,
HC 1070). Back
WE 12 Back
WE 13 Back
WE 14 Back
WE 15 Back
WE 16 Back
WE 17 Back
WE 18 Back
WE 19 Back
WE 20 Back
WE 21 Back
WE 22 Back
WE 23 Back
WE 24 Back
This was after the publication of the Report of the Committee
on Standards and Privileges on Mr Tony McNulty (Tenth Report
of Session 2008-09, HC 1070). In preparing for the interview,
I had drawn Mr Hunt's attention to the Report. Back
See the Tenth Report from the Committee on Standards and Privileges,
Session 2008-09, HC 1070. Back
Mr Hunt subsequently confirmed that he had repaid £466 Back
WE 4 Back
WE 4 Back
WE 25 Back
Committee on Standards and Privileges, Tenth Report of Session
2008-09, HC 1070 Back
Committee on Standards and Privileges, Tenth Report of Session
2008-09, HC1070 Back