Watchdog criticised over Eric Joyce expenses while Falkirk MP

Eric Joyce in the House of Commons
Eric Joyce in the House of Commons

The Commons expenses watchdog has been criticised for failing to stop former Falkirk MP Eric Joyce racking up over £10,000 of debts.

A review published this week said the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority should have challenged claims submitted by Mr Joyce over a period of 15 months from April 2012.

The report followed a complaint by the politician after IPSA said some of his claims, involving staff expenses and his use of his official credit card, were invalid.

However, Peter Davis, IPSA’s compliance officer, admitted that “information provided to Mr Joyce regarding the size of his payment card debt has been contradictory and misleading”.

His review said Mr Joyce, who stood down at the General Election, had been provided with a payment card since 2010 and during that time his “misuse of the cards had been fairly consistent”.

IPSA had even suspended his card on several occasions when the MP failed to provide information and supporting receipts at the end of a payment period.

The disputed card payments were for travel, hotel and mobile phone bills.

These had been paid before the authority decided that some fell outside the rules, and tried to reclaim them. They included £896.92 for a three-night hotel stay, which exceeded the £450 limit.

Around this time last year the then MP contacted IPSA to dispute the size of the debt, saying he believed the figure was £1949.72.

A month later IPSA’s credit management team wrote to Mr Joyce informing him that there was £2008.96 outstanding debt on his payment card and requested repayment.

But a week after, they emailed the MP to say an “error in the system” meant the outstanding debt was £367.95, an amount he subsequently paid.

Then in October 2014, IPSA’s head of operations wrote to Mr Joyce to say there was £4410.35 outstanding debt on his card.

The chief executive of the authority wrote to the MP in January this year informing him of outstanding debts which then totalled £12,919.61. These were made up of £5850.68 of staff travel and accommodation claims and £6,2014.34 of ineligible claims made by using his card.

The following month Mr Joyce emailed compliance officer Mr Davis disputing the decision contending his claims were reasonable and within the “letter and spirit” of the MP’s Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses. His complaint prompted the review.

In his report Mr Davis accepted that Mr Joyce’s accommodation is expenditure is “considerably lower” than most MPs.

Yesterday (Wednesday), Mr Joyce could not be reached.

However, he has previously said that he had been advised by IPSA that claims by his researcher were within the rules, but after two years, said they had made a mistake.

He has also said that he is happy to pay anything agreed.