1. We have received from the Commissioner for Parliamentary
Standards a memorandum, reporting on his investigation into a
complaint that for much of the period 2004 to 2006 Bill Wiggin,
the Member for North Herefordshire,
made fixed monthly claims against his Parliamentary second homes
allowance (the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA)) which were not
justified by the costs he had incurred. The complaint was made
by Mr Jim Miller of Leominster in November 2009.
2. The Commissioner completed his investigation on
1 July 2010. His memorandum is published at Appendix 1 to this
Report. In accordance with our usual procedure, we supplied Mr
Wiggin with a copy of the Commissioner's memorandum and invited
him to give evidence. Mr Wiggin submitted written evidence, which
is published at Appendices 2, 3 and 4.
The Commissioner's findings
3. Mr Wiggin has a home in his constituency and a
home in London. From January 2004, Mr Wiggin made monthly Additional
Costs Allowance claims in respect of his London home for council
tax and telephone, utilities, service and maintenance costs. In
financial years 2004-05 and 2005-06, most of these claims were
for the sum of £240. Mr Wiggin also claimed for other items,
including mortgage interest.
4. The Commissioner identifies as the principal issue
for him to resolve the question of "whether, over the financial
years 2004-05 and 2005-06, Mr Wiggin acted within the rules in
claiming routinely £240 a month from his Additional Costs
Allowance for a range of services." As the Commissioner points
out, "That amount was just £10 below the limit established
by the Department for claims not backed by invoices or receipts."
The rules in force at the time (2004 to 2006) stated that invoices
or receipts must be provided for all items of expenditure of £250
or more. This meant
that Members were able to claim sums under £250 without producing
invoices or receipts, an arrangement which the Commissioner describes
as "clearly unsatisfactory" and which was discontinued
5. As the Commissioner has found, Members were in
effect able to choose between claiming the full amount with invoices
where the sum exceeded £250, or claiming less than £250
even when the actual costs were higher, without having to justify
their claims. This meant that substantial sums of money were claimed
and paid to Mr Wiggin and to other Members without any test of
the validity of the claims. The Commissioner points out that the
lax nature of the allowances system before 2008 has meant that
neither the House authorities nor Mr Wiggin have evidence of the
costs Mr Wiggin actually incurred. He continues:
If Mr Wiggin made these claims when his actual costs
were in fact less than £240 a month, or they were not incurred
as a result of his parliamentary duties, then Mr Wiggin was in
breach of the rules.
6. The Commissioner acknowledges that, although Mr
Wiggin's decision to claim routinely £240 a month for a range
of items was probably influenced by the fact that he was not required
to produce invoices for claims at that level, it would not be
right for him to find that Mr Wiggin was thereby in breach of
the rules of the House.
The rules clearly allowed Mr Wiggin and other Members to do thisbut
only if they had actually incurred the costs for which they were
claiming in each month.
7. The Commissioner finds that, with the exception
of council tax, it is not possible for him to give a definitive
answer to the question of whether Mr Wiggin actually incurred
the costs he routinely claimed (£240 a month each for utilities
costs, for telephone costs, and for service and maintenance costs).
This is because Mr Wiggin provided very little evidence to substantiate
his claims. Although the Commissioner suggested that Mr Wiggin
check with his service providers and his bank to see whether any
relevant records existed, Mr Wiggin chose not to do so.
8. The Commissioner finds that Mr Wiggin over-claimed
on his second home council tax bill for 2005-06 by £716,
of which he was paid £285 because his overall claims for
that year had reached the maximum allowed. Although the Department
of Resources took the view that other claims by Mr Wiggin could
have been met had there been sufficient headroom, the Commissioner
the result of Mr Wiggin routinely claiming
£240 a month for council tax whenever he considered the ACA
budget would allow it, meant that he received £285 more for
this item than he should have done. He was, therefore, in my judgement,
in breach of the rules in receiving this amount for his council
tax in 2005-06. I therefore uphold this part of the complaint.
9. On the basis of what he describes as "the
limited and largely circumstantial evidence" available to
him on Mr Wiggin's other costs, the Commissioner has nonetheless
been able to reach a judgment on the balance of probabilities
as to whether it is more likely than not that Mr Wiggin actually
incurred the costs for which he claimed.
10. Mr Wiggin claimed a total of £1,856 for
his second home's utility costs in 2004-05, and £2,880 in
2005-06 (of which he was paid £2,449 after a reduction to
take account of the Dissolution period, in respect of which allowances
are not payable). On the balance of probabilities, the Commissioner
finds that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that Mr
Wiggin over-claimed in 2004-05 but that it is more likely than
not that he did so in 2005-06. He therefore upholds the complaint
in respect of the £2,449 Mr Wiggin received for his utilities
bills in 2005-06.
11. Mr Wiggin's claims for his second home's telephone
costs amounted to £240 a month for seven months in 2004-05
(a total of £1,680 over the year) and £240 a month for
each month in 2005-06 (a total of £2,880, of which he was
paid £2,449 after a reduction to take account of the Dissolution
period). The Commissioner notes that Mr Wiggin had three telephone
lines to his second home and that he shared them with a business
run by his wife, Wiggin Public Relations. He comments that "It
would have made much more sense for there to have been separate
lines separately billed and charged."
He points out that Mr Wiggin made "considerably lower"
telephone claims in 2007-08, when he claimed for five months at
£190, two months at £75, one month at £60 and one
month at £50. On the balance of probabilities, the Commissioner
concludes that Mr Wiggin's share of his second home's telephone
bills was more likely than not to have amounted to less than the
£240 he claimed in each of the 19 months. He therefore upholds
this part of the complaint.
12. In 2004-05, Mr Wiggin claimed and received £240
a month for six months (a total of £1,440) for service and
maintenance of his second home, in addition to some major items
for which he claimed a total of £4,458. In 2005-06, he claimed
£240 a month (a total of £2,880, of which he was paid
£2,449 after a reduction to take account of the Dissolution
period). Mr Wiggin did not submit any evidence in support of the
monthly claims, instead telling the Commissioner that they related
to work carried out by plumbers, electricians and service engineers
or to the purchase of DiY materials and that he was entitled to
make them. The Commissioner finds it hard to accept that, on the
balance of probabilities, the costs of such incidental and routine
maintenance could or should have come every month to at least
£240. He therefore concludes that Mr Wiggin's service and
maintenance bills were more likely than not to have cost less
than the sums he claimed and received in 2004-05 and in 2005-06.
As the Commissioner points out, Mr Miller did not refer to the
service and maintenance claims in his complaint. However, the
issues are the same and the Commissioner has, in accordance with
precedent, included these claims in his investigation.
13. The Commissioner has also considered whether
Mr Wiggin wrongly designated his London home as his main home
for a period of three years. Again, this matter did not form part
of the original complaint but emerged in the course of the investigation
and was followed up. The Commissioner notes that the evidence
is that Mr Wiggin's designation of his main home during this period
"was handled by him in a chaotic way."
In January 2004, Mr Wiggin designated his constituency property
as his second home. This designation remained in place until January
2007, after the Department had drawn to Mr Wiggin's attention
that he had been claiming for costs incurred in relation to his
designated main home. The Commissioner has found that Mr Wiggin's
monthly claim forms were "a muddle." Mr Wiggin did not
deliberately breach the rules. However, the Commissioner finds
that Mr Wiggin made "a carelessbut repeatedmistake".
He concludes that Mr Wiggin was in breach of the rules of the
House in wrongly designating his London home as his main home
from January 2004 to January 2007.
14. In his assessment of the seriousness of the various
breaches that, on the balance of probabilities, he has concluded
occurred, the Commissioner describes Mr Wiggin's designation of
his London home as his main home as "an unfortunate and unintended
muddle." He identifies as a strong mitigating factor the
Department's failure to pick up the error much earlier than they
did. However, the Commissioner considers Mr Wiggin's other breaches
to have been serious.
This is because his claims for some items were, on
the balance of probabilities, above the costs he was reasonably
likely actually to have incurred. I consider that, even by the
standards of the time, the way Mr Wiggin handled his claims was
not acceptable since a too casual approach led to him making some
excessive claims for his second home costs in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
In my judgement, these claims could not be justified by what was
likely to have been the actual expenditure he necessarily incurred
in support of his parliamentary duties. It is difficult to avoid
the conclusion that Mr Wiggin believed that he was entitled to
receive the full ACA allowance each year, and submitted his claims
accordingly, without always checking that each monthly claim was
justified by the expenditure he had actually incurred in each
15. The Commissioner records in his memorandum that
in January 2007, a Departmental official had made a file note,
in which he described Mr Wiggin as giving the impression that
he applied the ACA rules "in a fairly cavalier manner."
He considers that "there have been remnants of that attitude
in the information [Mr Wiggin] has given in my inquiry."
The Commissioner adds that "It is disappointing that Mr Wiggin
did not make a greater effort to identify what he actually paid
for the various services for which he claimed."
Mr Wiggin's evidence
16. In his initial written evidence to the Committee,
Mr Wiggin welcomed the Commissioner's conclusion that he did not
breach the rules by claiming £240 each month for utility
and other bills without receipts (so long as the expenditure was
actually incurred). He apologised for over-claiming for Council
Tax in 2005-06 and for his "casual" administration of
Parliamentary allowance claims in 2004.
However, Mr Wiggin took issue with several of the Commissioner's
- Mr Wiggin does not accept that
he failed to "check for records" which might have substantiated
- Mr Wiggin suggests that the Commissioner's finding
in respect of his claims for utility bills in 2004-05 and 2005-06
- Mr Wiggin defends his apportionment of his telephone
bills between Parliamentary use and his wife's business use
- Mr Wiggin maintains that he spent more than he
- Mr Wiggin describes the Commissioner's decision
to base his conclusions on a balance of probability as "deeply
worrying given that he has admitted to having insufficient evidence"
17. We considered Mr Wiggin's evidence at our meeting
on 7 September. We noted, in particular, that Mr Wiggin had not
taken up the Commissioner's suggestion that he approach his service
providers and others for evidence of the bills he actually paid.
It appeared to us that, if he had acted in accordance with the
Commissioner's suggestion, Mr Wiggin would have been able to demonstrate
that his ACA claims were, as he had consistently maintained, for
sums below the expenditure he had actually incurredor not,
as the case may be. We therefore offered Mr Wiggin a further opportunity
to obtain this evidence.
18. Mr Wiggin wrote to us on 16 September.
He expressed his willingness to comply with our suggestion and
he supplied us with copies of letters he had written to his service
providers. In early
October, he wrote again, enclosing copies of bank statements for
most of 2006-07, plus copies of the telephone bills he had previously
supplied to the Commissioner, covering much of 2004-05.
Conclusions and recommendation
19. The Commissioner concludes, and Mr Wiggin accepts,
that Mr Wiggin wrongly designated his main home between 2004 and
2007. We agree with the Commissioner that this was due to carelessness
on the part of Mr Wiggin, that there is no evidence of intent
and that the failure of the House authorities to notice the error
for three years is "a strong mitigating factor."
20. We welcome Mr Wiggin's apology for over-claiming
£285 in respect of Council Tax in 2005-06. However, we note
that Mr Wiggin has not yet offered to repay the sum.
21. In his evidence, Mr Wiggin has criticised various
aspects of the Commissioner's conclusions. Mr Wiggin states that
"The Commissioner is incorrect to say that I did not check
for records." We have found nothing in the Commissioner's
memorandum which amounts to such a broad allegation. The Commissioner
accepts that there is "some strength" in the argument
that Mr Wiggin did not expect to be asked to produce invoices
or receipts and that it is now some years after the event.
As summarised above, he suggested to Mr Wiggin that Mr Wiggin
check with his service providers and bank to see whether any relevant
records existed. The Commissioner does not allege that Mr Wiggin
failed to check his own attic, but he has concluded that Mr Wiggin
chose not to check with his service providers or his bank, despite
having been invited to do so. Mr Wiggin has told us that he is:
willing to apologise ... fully for my poor administration.
I regret that my records have not been kept to the standard of
scrutiny that in retrospect they should have been ...
22. As noted above, it is our view that, had Mr Wiggin
asked for and obtained copies of his utility bills and bank statements,
it is likely that he would have been able to provide the Commissioner
with conclusive evidence, which would have either supported or
demolished the allegation that he claimed less than he spent.
We are very surprised that Mr Wiggin apparently chose not to write
to his service providers until he was invited to do so by us.
23. The evidence eventually supplied by Mr Wiggin
is far from complete. However, we are satisfied that it is sufficient
for us to reach a conclusion based on the balance of probabilities.
This is, as Mr Wiggin noted in his evidence, the same test that
the Commissioner applied in reaching his conclusions. We do not
agree with Mr Wiggin that the Commissioner was wrong to base his
conclusions on a balance of probabilities. The present Commissioner
and his predecessors have always used this test when reaching
conclusions on cases investigated by them. They have done so with
the consistent support of previous Committees on Standards and
Privileges. In particularly
serious cases, both the Commissioner and the Committee have required
the evidence to demonstrate that an allegation is significantly
more likely to be true than not to be true before it is upheld.
However, in our view the complaint against Mr Wiggin is not such
a case. We therefore support the Commissioner's decision to base
his conclusions on a straightforward balance of probabilities
and we note that, in his final piece of written evidence, Mr Wiggin
himself used it. We wish to make two additional points:
- First, a balance of probabilities
is a stringent test; it means that an allegation must be found
to be more likely to be true than not to be true before it may
- Secondly, had Mr Wiggin sought and obtained when
originally invited to do so evidence that was available to him
but which was not available directly to the Commissioner, he could
at that early stage have put the matter beyond doubt.
24. We turn now to Mr Wiggin's detailed comments
on the Commissioner's conclusions and to the evidence he has supplied.
GAS AND ELECTRICITY COSTS
25. Mr Wiggin has described the Commissioner's finding
that the seven monthly claims of £240 he made for his utility
costs in 2004-05 did not breach the rules but that the twelve
monthly claims of £240 he made in 2005-06 did as an odd and
"at best inconsistent conclusion." Mr Wiggin appears
to have based this view on an assumption that the Commissioner's
conclusion related to Mr Wiggin's claims in respect of each month
of those years, whereas it is clear from the Commissioner's memorandum
that he was considering the totality of the claims in each year.
It is on this consistent basis that the Commissioner has reached
different conclusions in respect of the two financial years, 2004-05
and 2005-06. The Commissioner states that there is insufficient
evidence to suggest that the sum claimed in respect of 2004-05
was excessive. It appears to us that, in reaching this conclusion,
the Commissioner was in effect giving Mr Wiggin the benefit of
26. As we have already noted, this is a matter which
we believe Mr Wiggin could have placed beyond doubt, by obtaining
the relevant documents. It is disappointing that Mr Wiggin has
apparently been unable to obtain copies of his past bills from
his gas and electricity supplier. He has, however, supplied us
with bank statements for most of the period April 2006 to January
2007. These show that in each month from June 2006 to January
2007, Mr Wiggin was paying £473 by direct debit for the gas
and electricity used at his London home. In April 2006, the monthly
sum was £486.
27. This new evidence does not relate to the period
when, the Commissioner has concluded, Mr Wiggin was probably claiming
more than the cost of his gas and electricity. It is also evidence
not of the actual cost of the gas and electricity consumed, but
of a payment plan intended to even out energy costs over the course
of a full year. And as Mr Wiggin acknowledges, the monthly direct
debits have varied over time. However, it would be unreasonable
for us not to take this new evidence into account in reaching
our own judgment on the balance of probabilities. In our view,
the new evidence tips the balance sufficiently in Mr Wiggin's
favour to make it unsafe to for us conclude that he claimed more
for his utility costs than he incurred. It is worth restating
that, had Mr Wiggin obtained copies of his energy bills for the
relevant period, he could have put the matter beyond doubt. It
is, of course, still open to him to do this.
TELEPHONE AND COMMUNICATION COSTS
28. Mr Wiggin supplied the Commissioner with a number
of telephone bills which he found in his attic. The bills related
to the three telephone lines that Mr Wiggin shared with his wife's
business. As the Commissioner notes, "These showed that in
August 2004 the bills were £597, the bills for November 2004
came to £503, and in February 2005 to £552."
There was also a bill for £96, dated October 2004. Mr Wiggin's
evidence was that, when claiming £240 a month for his London
home telephone costs, he was estimating his share of the overall
bills. He told us that in the absence of guidance about how to
apportion the costs between his own use and that of his wife's
business, he does not know how he is supposed to work out his
share of the bill "except by making a judgement."
29. We accept that to go through these bills disentangling
his own use of the telephone lines from that of his wife's business
would have been time-consuming for Mr Wiggin, although we note
that he appears to have done this in 2007-08. We also assume that
his wife faced carrying out a similar exercise when drawing up
her business accounts, so we are a little surprised that the breakdown
was not readily available. Moreover, we strongly agree with the
Commissioner that "It would have made much more sense for
there to have been separate lines separately billed and charged."
We cannot understand why it would not have occurred to Mr Wiggin
to do this.
- Mr Wiggin has not supplied us with any further
evidence of his telephone costs. We therefore looked again at
the bills he had already supplied to the Commissioner. Mr Wiggin
supplied three bills in relation to one of the three telephone
lines to his London home; and he supplied two bills in relation
to each of the other two lines. It appears to us that the bills
for two of the three lines were prepared on a quarterly basis;
the evidence suggests that the bills from another company for
the third line were issued monthly. This being so, the cost of
the telephone and communication services supplied to Mr Wiggin's
London homeboth his own use of the three telephone lines
and whatever use of those lines was made by his wife's businesswas
|Line 1||£1,327 over the period June 2004 to February 2005
||Equivalent monthly rate: £147
|Line 2||£197 over the period September 2004 to February 2005
||Equivalent monthly rate: £33
|Line 3||£224 in October and November 2004
||Equivalent monthly rate: £112
|Total equivalent monthly rate:
31. Mr Wiggin told us in written evidence that he
was paying "well over £400 even in August 2004"
for his telephone bills.
From the sparse evidence of the few bills which Mr Wiggin has
provided, the average monthly figure was less than £300.
In the absence of any evidence as to the proportion of the telephone
costs which should properly have been borne by Mrs Wiggin's business,
we are unable to calculate how much Mr Wiggin was entitled to
claim from Parliamentary allowances during the period covered
by these bills, a situation which we find deeply unsatisfactory.
But as the Commissioner concluded:
£240 is a lot to spend on a home telephone in
a month. And Mr Wiggin would not have been there for substantial
periodshe would have spent a considerable amount of time
in his main home in his constituency, particularly in the recesses.
And, when Parliament was sitting, he would have been in the House.
I therefore find it hard to accept that Mr Wiggin's telephone
costs when staying in his London home on parliamentary duties
reached £240 each month. I am reinforced in this conclusion
by the considerably lower telephone claims Mr Wiggin made in 2007-08,
when he claimed for five months at £190, two months at £75,
one month at £60 and one month at £50. He made no claims
at all in 2008-09.
32. On a balance of probabilities, we conclude that
Mr Wiggin's average monthly use in connection with his Parliamentary
duties of the three telephone lines to his London home that he
shared with his wife's business was unlikely to have cost as much
as £240 in 2004-05 and in 2005-06.
SERVICE AND MAINTENANCE COSTS
33. Mr Wiggin has been unable to supply us with any
evidence of the costs he incurred in servicing and maintaining
his second home, for which over an 18-month period he also claimed
£240 monthly, in addition to claiming separately for major
items. This is because Mr Wiggin paid cash for work such as redecorating,
which he told us cost him about £300 to £500 per room.
Mr Wiggin's evidence to the Commissioner was that the monthly
costs related to work carried out by plumbers and electricians
(he made no mention of decorators), plus some DiY costs (these
costs included paint). The Commissioner concluded, on a balance
of probabilities, that the actual costs were more likely than
not to have been less than the sums claimed. We agree with the
34. We agree with the Commissioner that the arrangement
under which Members were able to claim for items under £250
"was clearly unsatisfactory."
It was never the case that Members were permitted to claim for
sums greater than the costs they actually incurred. The evidence
shows that it is more likely than not that Mr Wiggin did claim
for expenditure he did not incur, in respect both of telephone
services and of service and maintenance. However, the new evidence
supplied by Mr Wiggin does not support a conclusion that he over-claimed
for gas and electricity costs. Although these costs appear to
have been remarkably high, we conclude that Mr Wiggin was within
the rules in claiming, as he did, £240 each month towards
them from his Additional Costs Allowance.
35. The Commissioner has concluded that Mr Wiggin's
muddled failure to designate his main home correctly was unfortunate
and unintended. Mr Wiggin gained nothing and the public purse
lost nothing from this mistake. However, the Commissioner considers
that the rest of Mr Wiggin's breaches were serious.
We agree with these assessments.
36. We also note with disappointment the Commissioner's
remarks about Mr Wiggin's attitude towards cooperating with his
inquiry and we take this opportunity to remind all Members of
their obligations under paragraph 18 of the Code of Conduct:
Members shall cooperate, at all stages, with any
investigation into their conduct by or under the authority of
We recommend that Bill Wiggin apologise to the
House through this Committee in writing for wrongly designating
his main home from 2004 to 2007. We further recommend that Mr
Wiggin repay the £285 he over-claimed in respect of council
tax in 2005-06. Finally, we recommend that Mr Wiggin apologise
to the House through this Committee in writing for claiming from
Parliamentary allowances costs that we have concluded he did not
actually incur and that he repay £4,009, representing half
of the sum he was paid from Parliamentary allowances in respect
of telephone and communication costs and service and maintenance
costs for his second home in financial years 2004-05 and 2005-06.
1 Prior to the 2010 General Election, the constituency
was known as Leominster Back
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Appendix 1, paragraphs 132 and 133 Back
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Appendix 1, paragraph 64 and WE23 Back
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Appendix 2 Back
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Evidence not printed Back
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Appendix 4 Back
See, eg, Second Report of Session 2000-01, HC 89, paragraphs 16
to 20 Back
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HC, 2008-09, 735 Back