Published: 06:00, 15 April 2021
| Updated: 15:47, 15 April 2021
Kent MP Helen Whately has been accused of “outrageous contempt” for constituents after refusing to answer questions about her £3,250-a-month rent expenses.
But when contacted by KentOnline's sister paper, the Faversham News, with a list of questions about the expenditure, her office told us she would not be commenting.
It is understood the £3,250-a-month claims relate to a property in London, but Mrs Whately - who earns £113,612 a year as an MP and minister - would not confirm this.
Questions also remain unanswered about why her monthly claim increased from £1,950 - a rise of almost 70% - in October 2019.
It was around this time she bought a £1.35m farmhouse in a village on the outskirts of Faversham.
Neighbours say she is regularly seen at the sprawling, eight-bedroom property with her husband, who is a director and founder of an energy company.
It is not known if Mrs Whately classes the property as her primary residence, or lives mainly in the capital. It is also not clear which is seen as the family home.
There is no suggestion Mrs Whately has broken any rules, and the sum she claims falls just within the permitted limit for an MP with three children renting a London property.
But the 44-year-old has been accused of a lack of transparency for not explaining why the claims are so high, and why they suddenly, and significantly, increased in 2019.
County councillor Antony Hook (Lib Dem) has urged the MP to offer an explanation to taxpayers.
“A refusal to comment shows an outrageous contempt for the public and for the press,” he said.
“If she feels she has done nothing wrong, you would expect her to comment and to explain why she feels she needs to make these claims.”
Mrs Whately became the MP for Faversham and Mid-Kent with a huge majority in 2015. She held her seat in 2017, and then again at the last General Election in December 2019.
In February 2020, she joined the Department for Health and Social Care as the Minister of State for Social Care.
MPs are entitled to claim expenses to cover the cost of things such as the running of an office, employing staff, and maintaining a property either in London or their constituency.
The accommodation budget for London is £23,010, but is bumped up by £5,435 for each dependent an MP has.
So an MP claiming expenses for a London property with three children would have a maximum budget of £39,315.
Mrs Whately’s monthly claims account for an annual total of £39,000.
Trevor Payne, who is chairman of the Faversham and Mid-Kent Constituency Labour Party, says the figure is an “unimaginable” sum of money to most people.
“She may not have broken the rules that are in place but it certainly doesn’t read very well,” he said.
“It’s only reasonable for her to offer some sort of explanation, for her own conscience, about such a large increase when people are going through such tough times.
“In a perverse sort of way, I would have thought it would be in her own best interest.
“It’s odd because this sort of information is in the public domain to be scrutinised so that everything is above board.”
Joe Ventre, digital campaign manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, says the public is “right to be concerned over the rising cost of politicians”.
“MPs understandably need resources to do their jobs, but the electorate expects them to be transparent and keep costs under control,” he said.
“Although this spending may fall ‘within the rules’, parliamentarians must do their utmost to limit their expenses and alleviate the burden on hard-pressed households.”