Alan Keen and Ann Keen|
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. 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
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
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).
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. For part
of the Summer of 2009, the house was occupied by squatters.
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. This advice
was repeated in September 2009, on the understanding that the
Keens would move back into their main home in October, which they
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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. 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
significant public funds."
In his view, both Mr and Mrs Keen were "equally responsible
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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