The MPs’ expenses watchdog has apologised for telling parliamentarians they could claim back some costs for Christmas parties.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), a body created largely as a response to the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, had been widely criticised for its initial decision.
The guidance 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”.
Some MPs were subject to abuse over the guidance and lawmakers complained that the regulator 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, a number of MPs contacted the body saying “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.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips – in a post on Twitter retweeted by the 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.”
Conservative MP Maria Caulfield wrote on Twitter: “Welcome clarification from Ipsa that MPs do not use public funds for Christmas parties.”
The leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, also welcomed Ipsa’s statement.
On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson had 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.”