DUP MP Ian Paisley has given his wife a pay rise of around £20,000 for the part-time job she does for him.
Fiona Paisley has worked as an administration manager for her husband, the MP for North Antrim, since 2015.
MPs are allowed to claim money from the public purse each year to cover a wide range of expenses, including the costs of employing staff.
When Mrs Paisley took on the part-time job, her salary, according to details of expenses claimed by Mr Paisley, was up to £5,000 for the 2015/16 financial year.
The following year, her salary rose to between £10,000 and £15,000 and remained at this level until 2019.
However, for the 2019/20 financial year, Mrs Paisley’s salary jumped to between £30,000 and £35,000 — despite her job title and part-time status remaining the same.
Mr Paisley employs a total of six people to support in his work at Westminster.
Two of the jobs — a senior parliamentary assistant and a senior administration officer — are on a full-time basis. The other four positions — Mrs Paisley’s job as administration manager, a caseworker, an administrative officer and a senior administrative officer — are paid on a part-time basis.
The Sunday Independent contacted Mr Paisley in connection with his wife’s pay rise and asked on what basis she had received the large salary increase.
This newspaper also asked Mr Paisley if any of his other staff had received a pay rise equivalent to the one given to his wife. However, he did not make any comment.
On top of their annual salary of £81,932, MPs from Northern Ireland were able to claim up to £177,550 last year to cover their staffing costs.
For the 2020/21 financial year, Mr Paisley claimed a total of £154,336.46 for his staff costs.
However, only the details of his wife’s salary are available publicly because any MP who employs a family member must state publicly how much they are paid each year.
Mr Paisley is one of four Northern Ireland MPs who currently employ a family member. All four MPs represent the DUP. Lagan Valley MP and DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, employs his wife Eleanor as a senior secretary.
Mrs Donaldson also received a recent pay rise when her salary rose from between £20,000 and £25,000 to between £25,000 and £30,000 in the 2020/21 financial year. DUP East Derry MP Gregory Campbell employs his wife Frances as a part-time secretary on a salary of between £15,000 and £20,000.
Mrs Campbell’s salary has not changed since 2010 which is the furthest year back for which the expenses claimed by MPs are publicly available.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson employs his father John as a part-time office manager on a salary of between £20,000 and £25,000.
In the 2015/16 financial year, his first year in the job, John Robinson was paid between £10,000 and £15,000. However, his salary was increased to the current rate the following year.
Prior to 2010, there were no restrictions on how many family members or “connected parties” MPs could employ.
However, changes introduced in 2010 by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) meant Westminster representatives could only employ one family member.
In 2017, IPSA carried out a review of the system which noted that the practice of MPs employing relatives “can be perceived as providing personal gain to MPs and their families at taxpayers’ expense”.
The 2017 IPSA review highlighted that a decision to ban MPs from employing relatives was “not based on any identified abuse or misleading claim” and that they believe MPs who told them their family member employees “regularly go above and beyond in supporting MPs.”
While the 2017 review resulted in a ban on MPs employing family members, it did not extend to those already employed. This meant that any family members or spouses who were employed by an MP prior to the 2017 general election were able to continue in their roles indefinitely.
However, no MPs elected in 2017 or later can employ members of their family or spouses, nor can MPs who were elected prior to that, beyond any staff who are already employed.
The Sunday Independent last week revealed that Mr Paisley paid back £4,200 of his Westminster expenses last year after overspending his budget.
The North Antrim MP claimed around £230,000 last year to cover a wide range of expenses, including staff and office costs.
However, it emerged he paid back a total of £4,208 due to an apparent overspend of the allocated budget amounts for some of his expenses. He repaid the money in four instalments last year.
Mr Paisley’s DUP colleague at Westminster, Sammy Wilson, also repaid £40 for expenses claimed last year.
They were the only two of Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs who repaid expenses in the 2020/21 financial year.