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Thursday 28 August 2014

How TDs get subsidies to help pay mortgages

Fionnan Sheahan and Michael Brennan

Published 06/04/2013 | 05:00

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MORTGAGES on TDs' privately owned constituency offices are being subsidised by the taxpayer – even if it's located in their home.

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At the same time, thousands of struggling homeowners in mortgage arrears are losing out on crucial financial support because of a Government clampdown.

By contrast, there is no tightening of the rules on the use of TDs' expenses to pay a substantial chunk of the mortgages on their constituency offices.

The latest set of guidelines sent out to TDs this week lists the range of local services Dail deputies can claim from their €20,000 constituency expenses allowance.

Although only the mortgage interest can be claimed, this can often make up a substantial amount of the repayment, particularly in the early years of the mortgage.

However, there are no details on the numbers of TDs the taxpayer is helping to pay their mortgages – either on an office or their home – as the items claimed on expenses are not made available for public scrutiny.

The latest Register of Interests shows at least 25 TDs own their constituency offices, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

But it is not clear how many of the TDs benefit from using their expenses to help pay the mortgage, as they are not required to disclose how these expenses are spent. Nor is it clear how many TDs claim for using part of their home as their constituency office.

A limited number of TDs are audited by independent accountants every year to check their spending is within the guidelines.

The new document entitled 'Guidelines for Vouched Expenses Under the Public Representation Allowance', lists the range of services a TD can claim back to support their local constituency work, largely around the maintenance of an office including:

• Mortgage interest on offices.

• Rent, rates and other charges.

• Office furniture and equipment.

• Improvements to office accommodation.

"The cost of mortgage interest paid (or relevant proportion thereof) may be claimed as part of the Public Representation Allowance.

The cost of capital repayments may not be claimed," it says.

The document defines an "owner-occupied premises" allowance for particular expenses:

• A member's office in the home.

• A member's office in a business.

• A member's office in a mobile vehicle.

The Houses of the Oireachtas said the document was circulated to TDs once a year, setting out the audit guidelines for that period.

A spokesman said that Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin reduced the sum to €20,350 in Budget 2013 and cut out the ability to opt for unvouched expenses.

Irish Independent

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