IPSA is putting out a reply to an FOI request today which will say, amongst other things, that I owe the public thousands of pounds. This is my only comment upon that for the moment. Life is simply too short.
In early December 2014, I was notified by IPSA of reply to an FOI request saying that I owed them thousands of pounds mostly relating to staff travel or accommodation which ended over a year before. I pointed out to IPSA that I had never been told of this and that they would be putting out an FOI reply which would wrongly imply that I had knowingly left a debt unpaid for over a year. Moreover, I pointed out that I had received a letter from IPSA months before saying I owed them nothing at all.
IPSA has also accepted that I had, their error, never been informed of the claimed ‘debt’ at any stage over the previous year and that I had actually been told I owed nothing to IPSA, but then they said they would put out the reply anyway. I even met with the CEO of IPSA who accepted that. I asked the Information Commissioner’s office if IPSA had any obligation to ensure that the information put out in an FOI reply was accurate and whether I had any recourse to appeal of any sort. Essentially, I was told ‘no’ and ‘no’!
Finally, I checked every claim made by my staff. My office had confirmed the principle of each claim (for both travel and accommodation) before the claims began, then discussed and confirmed each claim as travel was required. There were around 50 contacts with IPSA over the period mentioned. IPSA accepts that the claims were agreed in advance, then confirmed as OK, then checked and paid. They say that the original reading of the rules by IPSA’s own staff was wrong and so was all of the advice they gave me. My staff or me, as it’s my responsibility, should therefore repay all of the cash paid out by IPSA last year.
In respect of these claims, had IPSA not agreed that the journeys may be made at public expense – then passed each journey one by one over a period of a year – then the journeys would not have been made or repeated. Critically, IPSA changed the wording of the rule (as I had suggested) between the point at which the claims were agreed and made, and the point at which IPSA decided the claims were not valid.
Some newspapers carried stories which included details from the FOI in December and I guess, there’ll be a repeat performance now.
I have at no point in my parliamentary career failed to promptly pay anything to IPSA which may have been owed by my office, nor have I made any public complaint about IPSA. There is, however, no appeal process in respect of IPSA decisions and no ombudsman has purview over IPSA. There is an internal IPSA complaints process, which I will now instigate, but in the end this process relies on IPSA staff in addition to an independent Compliance Officer (e.g. the assistant to the Compliance Officer is also the IPSA officer putting out the FOI reply).
I will not repay IPSA in cash unless the situation is resolved in IPSA’s favour, although I am now required to use personal funds to run my office and this will be deducted from the present total as expenditure takes place.
And that, for now, is all….