I've done nothing wrong, says Jenkin

AN ESSEX MP has insisted he has done nothing wrong after allegations he claimed almost �50,000 on expenses to rent a farmhouse that belongs to his sister-in-law and is situated outside his constituency.

Roddy Ashworth

AN ESSEX MP has insisted he has done nothing wrong after it was revealed he claimed almost �50,000 on expenses to rent a farmhouse that belongs to his sister-in-law and is situated outside his constituency.

But Bernard Jenkin, who represents North Essex at Westminster, said he was “devastated” after details of his additional costs allowance were published by the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Jenkin said his claims were “perfectly legitimate” and that he had not been made aware of new rules introduced in 2006 barring MPs' claims for properties owned by relatives.

The newspaper disclosed that Mr Jenkin rents a farmhouse in Hatfield Peverel less than a quarter of a mile from a large country property joint-owned by his wife, Anne Jenkin.

The couple live in Lambeth, London, and Mr Jenkin claims the farmhouse, owned by his sister-in-law, as his second home.

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The newspaper said that Mr Jenkin paid �49,500 in rent between 2004 and 2008, beginning with a monthly rent of �1,000 which later rose to �1,250. It claimed that his sister-in-law does not have a mortgage on the property.

Three years ago, the “Green Book” which governs House of Commons allowances, introduced a rule barring MPs from entering into financial arrangements with family members.

Mr Jenkin told the EADT: “The point is that the rent would have been higher if it was paid to another landlord. The arrangement is perfectly legitimate. The rules changed in 2006 and I was not made aware of it.

“The fees office were totally aware of the relationship at the outset. They have apologised in writing to me for failing to alert me to the fact that this no longer conforms to their rules and they have given me permission to continue claiming against the farmhouse until the end of August 2009.

“Any suggestion that this represents a misuse of public funds is unfounded, because my sister-in-law could easily obtain a higher rent on the open market.”

He later issued a further statement on Saturday in which he said: “The House of Commons Fees Office told me on Tuesday that the arrangement I had for my Essex home would no longer be valid.

“On Friday the Daily Telegraph telephoned to question me about this.

“Until this week, I genuinely did not expect this arrangement to be an issue.

“There is absolutely no suggestion of property speculation of phantom mortgages, just an honest and reasonable rent.

“I have called for the most sweeping changes.

“Things like the second home allowance and the communications allowance should be abolished.

“I have argued that our expenses should be properly vetted, not by the House of Commons MPs should be subject to the same tax rules as other citizens.

“I have devoted my life to public service and I now find myself devastated.”

The farmhouse rented by Mr Jenkin is situated around eight miles from the boundary of his rural Essex North constituency, which forms a “doughnut” shape around the more urban Colchester constituency.

Parliamentary rules state that a property designated as a “constituency home” can be as far as 20 miles of the boundary.

Mr Jenkin has already agreed to give some of the cost of a �750 42in Plasma TV to charity after claiming it on parliamentary expenses.

The Daily Telegraph also said he charged more than �1,000 a year for cleaning expenses and in 2005 claimed �400 for a lawnmower.

Last week Mr Jenkin refused to reveal his expenses to the EADT, unlike several Suffolk MPs who made them available to the newspaper.

Conservative MP for Chelmsford West, Simon Burns, and Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, Bob Russell also refused to pass on details of their claims for public scrutiny.