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Expenses row as Maidstone and Weald MP Helen Grant claims for second home despite living just 19 miles from Commons

Maidstone and Weald MP Helen Grant

by political editor Paul Francis

Maidstone and Weald MP Helen Grant has defended claiming the maximum expenses for a second home in London - despite living just 19 miles from Westminster.

Helen Grant, recently appointed equalities minister, lives outside her Maidstone constituency in a £1.8 million home in Reigate, Surrey.

It was reported at the weekend she also rents a flat near the MI6 building, in Vauxhall, which is funded on expenses.

Mrs Grant is eligible for an annual £20,000 second home allowance on Parliamentary expenses because her constituency is outside London.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) confirmed the MP's claim was within the rules.

But the Reigate home in which she lives is not far enough from London for the constituency MP - Tory Crispin Blunt - to make similar expenses claims.

Responding to the reports, a spokesman for Mrs Grant said: "Mrs Grant's constituency has been deemed by IPSA to be a non-London constituency and she is therefore fully entitled to use her rental accommodation allowance either in London or in the constituency.

"She has a base in her constituency at her mother's property, where her son also lives, so she sees no need to rent a further property there."

"The focus of her time and responsibility has always been Maidstone and the Weald."

Video: Helen Grant is heckled over her intentions to claim for a second home at a KM Group-run hustings event before she was elected in 2010

Although the claims are within the rules for MPs expenses, they may be seen by some as outside the spirit of them.

However, Mrs Grant made no secret of the fact she has always intended to claim for a second home.

Speaking before she was elected at a hustings meeting organised by the KM Group in 2010, she said: "I do have a home in the constituency, in lovely Marden.

"I will continue to have a home in the constituency, but I also need to keep my other home, as I have a 15-year-old son, who is at school there, and I need to be able to see him in the evenings and check he has done his homework, and so on."

Mrs Grant was heckled by members of the public, who claimed "most people working in London get the train".

The expense claims were uncovered in an investigation by Channel 4's Dispatches, which is due to broadcast a film called MPs: Are They Still At It? tonight.

A spokesman for IPSA said: "We set the rules up based on the constituency the MP represents. We provide support for one of those locations to help with renting a flat. Ultimately it comes down to the MP's judgment about what they need to claim for."Helen Grant's constituency office in Maidstone

Helen Grant is considering closing her constituency office in Maidstone

The MP has recently said she was considering closing her constituency office in the County Town.

Her decision to claim the second homes expenses have come under fire from Green Party spokesman for Maidstone Stuart Jeffrey. He has started a petition calling for her resignation.

He said: "In a government that is destroying the lives of those most in need, the equalities minister is busy making her life very comfortable.

"Three jobs, doesn't live in the constituency or anywhere near it, and soon won't have an office here. She clearly has no time for Maidstone's constituents and should stand down as our MP."

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