Alan Keen and Ann Keen - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


Alan Keen and Ann Keen



Introduction

1.  We have received from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards the report of his investigation of a complaint against Alan Keen, the Member for Feltham and Heston and Ann Keen, the Member for Brentford and Isleworth. The complainant, Mrs A Berkane, told the Commissioner in June 2009 that Mr and Mrs Keen had not been living in their designated main home, in Brentford, for a year or more.[1] She suggested that their second home, near Parliament, on which both Mr and Mrs Keen claimed Parliamentary allowances, had in effect become their main home. The essence of the complaint was thus that Mr and Mrs Keen had each wrongly identified their main home for allowance purposes.[2]

2.  The rules relating to allowances that may be claimed by Members of the House of Commons were substantially revised during the period covered by this complaint (2008 and 2009). Until April 2009, Members could claim Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) in respect of costs necessarily incurred on Parliamentary business when staying overnight away from their designated main home. The Green Book in force at the time stipulated that where Members had more than one home, the main home would normally be the home where they spent most nights. From April 2009, ACA was replaced by Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure (PAAE) and the determination of which was a Member's main home was left to each Member, subject always to the overriding principles that claims must be wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred on Parliamentary business, but otherwise "based on his or her circumstances."[3]

3.  The rules in the period covered by the Commissioner in his investigation allowed Members representing constituencies in outer London to claim allowances in respect of a second home. Members who were part of the same household were also permitted each to claim allowances in respect of the second home they shared. Both these rules are likely to change in the next Parliament.

4.  The Commissioner's memorandum is published with this Report as Appendix 1. We have also received written evidence from Mr and Mrs Keen, which is at Appendix 2.

The Commissioner's findings

5.  The Commissioner has set out in his memorandum a series of factual findings. In brief, these show that Mr and Mrs Keen have lived in the same house in Brentford since 1987 (before either was first elected to the House).[4] In May 2002, they bought a flat near Parliament and from then until July 2008 spent three nights a week in London whenever the House was sitting.[5] During recesses, Mr and Mrs Keen spent more time at their family home in Brentford. Both Mr and Mrs Keen nominated the Brentford property as their main home for allowance purposes and both claimed in respect of the London flat, as they were entitled to under the rules.[6] Contrary to some press reports, there is no evidence that they ever claimed Parliamentary allowances in respect of their Brentford home.

6.  In the period April 2008 to September 2009 inclusive, Mr Keen claimed £18,773 in second home allowances and Mrs Keen claimed £27,072.[7] Between them, Mr and Mrs Keen have repaid £2,644 of these sums, relating to the 2008-09 financial year.

7.  In May 2008, work began to refurbish and extend Mr and Mrs Keen's main home.[8] While the building works were under way, they spent less time there than previously, not staying overnight at all from July to September 2008 and staying just two nights a week in October and November. Following concerns over the lack of progress and substandard work, Mr and Mrs Keen had the house boarded up in December 2008 and they did not stay there overnight again until October 2009.[9] For part of the Summer of 2009, the house was occupied by squatters.[10]

8.  The Commissioner notes that Mr and Mrs Keen's main home had effectively been unoccupied for them for six months when they first sought advice from the Department of Resources in May 2009. The Director of Operations in that Department agreed at the time that, due to the exceptional circumstances applying to their main home, Mr and Mrs Keen could continue to claim PAAE in respect of their second home, although this would be subject to review.[11] This advice was repeated in September 2009, on the understanding that the Keens would move back into their main home in October, which they did.

9.  The Commissioner suggests that if for a period of time Mr and Mrs Keen effectively had only one home, they should not have claimed second home allowances during that period.[12] If, on the other hand, it were to be accepted that Mr and Mrs Keen had two homes throughout, then, the Commissioner suggests,

... the question arises as to whether some of the costs they claimed on their second home, their London flat, enabled them to spend nights there which they would otherwise have spent in their main home in Brentford, and so provided them with a personal financial benefit.[13]

10.  Addressing the question of whether Mr and Mrs Keen continued to have two homes, the Commissioner states that in his judgment a Member's main home must be available for overnight stays. From December 2008 to October 2009, he notes, Mr and Mrs Keen had only one home in which they could stay overnight: their London flat.[14] The Commissioner accepts that there can be an interval between a property becoming, as in this case, unavailable due to planned works or some sort of crisis, and a decision that it should no longer be counted as a home for allowance purposes. He believes that it would have been right for Mr and Mrs Keen to continue to designate the Brentford house as their main home if the building works had, as expected, been completed within a reasonable period.[15] However, on balance he considers that the eleven months period during which the Brentford property was unavailable for overnight stays but remained designated as Mr and Mrs Keen's main home was too long.[16]

11.  In the Commissioner's view, Mr and Mrs Keen should have sought advice from the Department of Resources early in 2009, soon after the Brentford house was boarded up.[17] He continues:

By the early spring of 2009, it should have been clear to Mr and Mrs Keen that they were in danger of not being able to return to the home for quite some time and they should either have ensured that their building problems were resolved quickly or started to make alternative arrangements. While this is a matter of judgement, my judgement is that by June 2009 they had been out of their Brentford home for too long for it to have continued to be considered their main home for allowance purposes. They had by then been out of the property for seven months and the work had yet to re-start. The arrival of the squatters was another serious setback, but by then the reasonable leeway had in my view run out.[18]

12.  The Commissioner concludes:

... from June 2009 to October 2009, Mr and Mrs Keen did not have more than one home for the purposes of their claims against parliamentary allowances. Since they did not have two homes in which they could stay overnight over that period, they were in breach of the rules of the House in continuing to claim from their parliamentary allowances for their flat in London.[19]

13.  Allowing for the possibility that we might not agree with this conclusion, the Commissioner has also considered whether, if Mr and Mrs Keen did have two homes throughout the 18 months when their Brentford house was affected by building works, they effectively received a personal financial benefit. He suggests that they did.

This is because, had they not made use of their London flat, they would have had to rent a property or perhaps stay in a hotel, and meet the cost from their own resources. For these reasons I consider that Mr and Mrs Keen obtained a personal financial benefit from this arrangement which was not in accordance with either the rules for the Additional Costs Allowance or those for the Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure.[20]

The Commissioner concludes that the period during which the benefit lasted was from the beginning of December 2008 (when the house was boarded up) to October 2009 (when the Keens moved back in).[21]

14.  In his overall conclusion, the Commissioner describes as a mitigating factor the advice given to Mr and Mrs Keen by the Department of Resources on two occasions that they could continue to claim allowances in respect of their London flat.[22] However, he also points out that Members are responsible for their own actions and suggests that "A more rigorous examination of their circumstances might have led Mr and Mrs Keen to take a different view." The Commissioner upholds the complaint, describing the breaches of the rules by Mr and Mrs Keen as "serious … involving significant public funds."[23] In his view, both Mr and Mrs Keen were "equally responsible for … a serious misjudgement."

Mr and Mrs Keen's evidence

15.  Mr and Mrs Keen jointly submitted a memorandum of evidence, which is reproduced in full at Appendix 2. Most of this takes the form of a chronology of events and of actions taken at the time by Mr and Mrs Keen. The following extract relates to the period May to July 2009:

May 09

...

It was around this time that the media made false accusations that the refurbishment of our Brentford home may be financed from public funds. After discussion with colleagues, we contacted the Department of Finance and were given support and permission to continue on condition that we reported back on progress towards re-occupying our home.

June 09

Letter leaked by local council to the local press and aided by broadcasts by BBC and Sky News, the public were alerted that we would have our home re-possessed because our house had been derelict for some time despite the fact that various members of our professional team were in regular contact with departments within the Council regarding planning and building regulatory matters. Within a couple of days, squatters occupied and defaced our home with defamatory slogans of a highly personal and pornographic nature. This meant that we lost the new builders as we could not guarantee if or when we would get our house back.

July 09

After an expensive legal preparation of the case to get our house back we were granted a possession order so that we could continue the work. On the last night of the squatters occupation of our home and courtesy of the media and internet interest a final rave was held and during which reports of sexual assaults rendered our home a temporary crime scene. Our house was described as a "graffiti sprayed, comedy club" with squatters raising money for their political cause. Thereafter we began a new search for a reputable builder and engaged one firm immediately so that we could repair the damage done by the squatters. This enabled us to have a very basic means of using the house while at the same time starting to reverse the damage done by the first builder.

16.  Not all the events described in the memorandum were included in Mr and Mrs Keen's evidence to the Commissioner and some which were included in that evidence are described differently in the memorandum. None of the differences, however, is in our view so significant as to cast doubt on the robustness of the Commissioner's conclusions.

17.  Mr and Mrs Keen invite the Committee to "consider if we made all reasonable endeavours to put the matter right within the rules of the House." They continue:

During all of this disruption and stress we continued to fulfil our Parliamentary, ministerial and constituency duties. Throughout this period we continued to pay the full costs of our Brentford home including mortgage, full council tax and utilities. Our post was always delivered to Brentford. We regularly went to our home and attended to the basics of the upkeep of our home as much as the circumstances allowed. The cost to public funds was not increased in any way by the fact that we were unable to stay in our Brentford home for a number of months.

Mr and Mrs Keen have also drawn our attention to "persistent and serious threats" made against Mrs Keen, which had resulted in a conviction.

Conclusions

18.  It is quite clear that Mr and Mrs Keen suffered a long run of bad luck as they attempted at their own expense to improve their family home in 2008 and 2009. They had to deal with one setback after another and the works were eventually completed a year later than originally planned. The experience must have been very stressful for them. These facts are not in dispute.

19.  Notwithstanding our sympathy with Mr and Mrs Keen for the catalogue of misfortune that they endured, exacerbated by what appear to have been malign and sometimes false reports in the media, our responsibility is to consider whether, in the light of all the evidence, Mr and Mrs Keen breached the rules relating to Parliamentary allowances. The Commissioner has concluded that they did, because they claimed allowances for a second home when they had only one habitable home. And if it were nonetheless judged that Mr and Mrs Keen were eligible to claim allowances, then the Commissioner says they derived a personal financial benefit from being able to use their allowance-funded second home rather than their main home.

20.  We agree with the Commissioner that, having allowed for a reasonable interval, Mr and Mrs Keen should not have claimed allowances in respect of their designated second home for the last four months of the ten-month period when their main home was boarded up and unavailable to them. However, it is clear from their evidence that Mr and Mrs Keen tried to resolve the various problems that beset them in relation to their main home. Unfortunately, in doing so they did not deal satisfactorily with the question of whether their continued claims in respect of their second home were fully consistent with the rules of the House. Continuing to claim allowances during this period was, the Commissioner has suggested, a serious misjudgment by both Mr and Mrs Keen.

21.  While we would normally agree with the Commissioner on the seriousness of a misjudgment of this kind, in the exceptional circumstances of this case we take a more lenient view. Although, as the guidance makes very clear, Members are responsible for their own decisions, the express approval given on two occasions by the Department of Resources to Mr and Mrs Keen's continued claims for second home allowances when their main home was out of use is a very significant mitigating factor.

22.  We conclude that Mr and Mrs Keen were in breach of the rules of the House because for a period of four months they claimed allowances for a second home when they only had one home available to them. This breach is significantly mitigated in our view by the approval given by the Department of Resources, by the lack of any evidence that Mr and Mrs Keen intended to procure for themselves a personal benefit, and by very difficult circumstances beyond their control. For the reasons the Commissioner has given, we consider this breach to have begun in June 2009 and to have ended in October 2009. Our estimate of the sum claimed as PAAE by both Mr and Mrs Keen in relation to that period is £5,678 (ie, four sixths of the total PAAE claims paid to both of them in respect of the first six months of 2009-10).

23.  The Commissioner invited us to consider whether, if we concluded that Mr and Mrs Keen did have two homes, they had received a personal financial benefit from their use of their second home between December 2008 and October 2009. Having accepted the Commissioner's main conclusion, that Mr and Mrs Keen had only one useable home, we have not thought it necessary to reach a view on this alternative conclusion.

Recommendation

24.  In view of the exceptional factors in this case and the express approval given to Mr and Mrs Keen by the Department of Resources for their continued claims on their second home even when they were using it for an extended period as their only home, it would not in our judgment be fair to recommend repayment in full. Accordingly, we recommend that Mr and Mrs Keen repay a total of £1,500 of the sums claimed by them in respect of Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure in 2009-10. We expect the repayment to be made before the end of this Parliament.


1   Appendix 1, paragraphs 2 and 4 Back

2   Appendix 1, paragraph 1 Back

3   Appendix 1, paragraphs 5 to 14 Back

4   Appendix 1, paragraphs 93 and 94 Back

5   Appendix 1, paragraphs 94 and 98 Back

6   Appendix 1, paragraph 94 Back

7   Appendix 1, paragraph 99 Back

8   Appendix 1, paragraph 95 Back

9   Appendix 1, paragraph 98 Back

10   Appendix 1, paragraph 95 Back

11   Appendix 1, paragraphs 96 and 100 Back

12   Appendix 1, paragraph 104 Back

13   Appendix 1, paragraph 105 Back

14   Appendix 1, paragraph 107 Back

15   Appendix 1, paragraph 108 Back

16   Appendix 1, paragraphs 109 and 110 Back

17   Appendix 1, paragraph 109 Back

18   Appendix 1, paragraph 110 Back

19   Appendix 1, paragraph 111 Back

20   Appendix 1, paragraph 115 Back

21   Appendix 1, paragraph 116 Back

22   Appendix 1, paragraph 122 Back

23   Appendix 1, paragraphs 121 and 122 Back


 
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