'We got the messaging wrong': Watchdog apologises for telling MPs they can claim Christmas parties on expenses

The watchdog responsible for MPs' expenses has apologised for telling them they could charge taxpayers for their staff Christmas parties for the first time.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) had been widely criticised for giving the go-ahead amid the cost of living crisis.

Ipsa said that after issuing the guidance a number of MPs got in touch to say "they have never made such claims in the past and have no intention of doing so in the future".

The watchdog's chief executive Ian Todd said: "We got the messaging wrong by allowing the impression to form that this is what MPs were wanting to do, rather than our interpretation of the discretion available under the existing rules.

"We are an independent body and we make our own decisions but, occasionally, like everyone, we make mistakes.

"I would like to apologise to those MPs and their staff who have had to deal with phone calls, e-mails and, in some cases, abuse as a result of our guidance. They did not write the guidance or influence its contents.

"In issuing it we also failed to recognise the public mood at a time of severe economic and financial pressures. I am sorry for that."

The watchdog's initial guidance said MPs could claim the cost of food and refreshments for an "office festive" in their parliamentary or constituency office - but alcohol could not be included in the "hospitality" claim.

"Festive decorations" like tinsel and a tree can also be expensed, according to the guidance.

Tory MP Maria Caulfield said on Twitter that she welcomed clarification from the watchdog that MPs "do not use public funds for Christmas parties".

The advice came in response to frequently asked questions on how MPs and their staff can celebrate Christmas.

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MPs can claim Christmas parties on expenses for first time

While MPs were told to be mindful of the cost of living crisis, the guidance drew criticism from a number of MPs and others.

Criticism also came from the TaxPayers' Alliance which said MPs "already get a plum deal without taxpayer-funded office jollies", while Labour MP Jess Phillips called it "irresponsible".

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesperson said MPs will have to "justify all spending to their constituents".