The watchdog responsible for MPs’ expenses has apologised for telling MPs they could charge taxpayers for Christmas parties, which resulted in some politicians receiving “abuse”.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) had been widely criticised for giving the go-ahead amid a cost-of-living crisis.
MPs also complained that the watchdog had given the impression they had been “clamouring” to put food, refreshments and decorations for an office party on expenses.
Ipsa said that after issuing the guidance around Christmas spend, 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, emails 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.”
Welcome clarification from IPSA that addresses concerns from both the public and MPs: https://t.co/OsLbYtpk2K
— Leader of the House of Commons (@CommonsLeader) November 24, 2022
Tory MP Maria Caulfield tweeted: “Welcome clarification from Ipsa that MPs do not use public funds for Christmas parties.”
Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt also welcomed Ipsa’s statement.
The initial guidance issued by Ipsa said MPs could claim the costs of “food and refreshments for an office festive event”, as well as “festive decorations for their office”, but “no claims are allowed for alcohol”.
On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman told journalists: “The Prime Minister certainly doesn’t intend to use this and his view is that MPs will want to justify all spending to their constituents.”
Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips – in a post on Twitter retweeted by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly – said Ipsa had been “irresponsible”.
“Just want to say no one asked for this, no one I know will use it,” she wrote.
“The guidance wasn’t made by MPs and yet we will be pilloried for it. I think it’s really irresponsible to issue this guidance as if MPs have been clamouring for it when I’ve literally never heard anyone do that.”