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Deputy PM gets taxpayer cash for his home
By VERNON SMALL – The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 01/08/2009
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Taxpayers are stumping up nearly $1000 a week for Finance Minister Bill English to live in his $1.2 million family home.
The taxpayer subsidy is double what the deputy prime minister was able to claim last year when he was an Opposition MP, and comes as Mr English calls for spending restraint and value for money in the public service.
National is defending the payments as within the rules.
According to the title, the Karori home was bought by Mr English and his wife, Mary, for $800,000 in 2003. However, in March this year the title was transferred to Mrs English alone. A spokesman for Mr English said the home was always owned by a family trust.
Details of Mr English’s expenses were revealed this week in the first public disclosure of MPs’ travel and accommodation costs.
They show he claimed $23,763 for Wellington accommodation costs in the first six months of the year for living in the Karori house.
The amount is almost twice the $24,000 annual cap on allowances Mr English would have been entitled to claim as an MP from out of Wellington for living in the same house as a backbench MP.
That allowance can be used to cover rent and other costs, including interest on a mortgage.
As deputy leader of the opposition, his salary was $176,900. As deputy prime minister, it is $276,700.
A spokesman for Mr English said the house was owned by a family trust, and there had been no change of ownership.
The change in March was caused by “changes in the trustee arrangements for personal and family reasons”.
It was not related to qualifying for parliamentary allowances.
“In the interests of providing stability for his family, the minister set up these accommodation arrangements [under Speaker’s directions for MPs] while he was an Opposition MP.”
After the election, as a minister he had the choice of moving into a Crown-owned house or another house rented by Ministerial Services at a similar cost.
He and his family decided to stay where they were for family reasons.
The spokesman said taxpayers could have faced a higher bill if Mr English had opted to rent elsewhere at current market rates.
Mr English’s spokesman said there was “no formal upper limit set on rental payments, but Ministerial Services had set an informal limit for rental costs of around $700 a week”.
Expenses for power, insurance and other costs were on top of this.
However, the rules set by Prime Minister John Key appear to put ministers on a level playing field with ordinary MPs.
They state that where a minister chooses not to take up an official residence they can claim “the amount of the actual and reasonable expenses that a member of Parliament is entitled to be reimbursed for under the Speaker’s directions”.