Phil Willis latest Lib Dem MP named by Telegraph

We have a rather belated entrant into the pantheon of Lib Dem MPs accused by the Telegraph of having abused the expenses system: Harrogate and Knaresborough’s Phil Willis.

The full Telegraph story is here. Tracing the sequence from the newspaper’s (actually rather confusing) report, it appears Phil’s main residence is near Harrogate, and he bought a basement flat as his London base a decade ago (presumably when first elected). So far no story.

However, in April 2007, Phil bought the neighbouring basement flat for £215,000, and designated it as his second home, claiming some expenses for stamp duty, legal fees and refurbishment. His daughter is now the sole occupant in the previous flat. Both flats are registered jointly with his wife and daughter respectively – this was, Phil says, because he had suffered a stroke, and was concerned for his health.

The paper then comments, “This means public money has been spent on a flat now inhabited by the MP’s daughter, and on a property in which she has a joint interest. Rules state that members cannot claim for costs that benefit anyone other than themselves.” Here’s where the Telegraph slightly loses me, as this paragraph seems to imply that Phil spent public money on the former flat at a time when (they claim) only his daughter is living there – I can’t see the evidence for that in what the paper reports. As far as I can make out, Phil’s expenses claims on the original flat relate only to the period when it was registered as his second home for his use while he was in London.

Finally, the paper reports Phil’s response to the paper’s allegations:

Mr Willis on Tuesday night said his daughter had never been a “permanent resident” in the flat. … “At no time have I knowingly made claims that attempted to abuse the Additional Costs Allowance. I have publicly supported Nick Clegg’s campaign that any capital gain made as a direct result of taxpayers’ money should be returned to the fees office on sale of the property, which in my case, means for both flats 1 and 2.”

The Telegraph story has also been picked up the Daily Mail – who (quelle surprise) seem at least as fascinated by the fact that Phil’s daughter is an ex-model. The paper also cuts out Phil’s statement that any capital gains made on either flat will be returned to the taxpayer in accordance with Nick Clegg’s stated policy – I’m sure that’s just an accidental omission by a Mail sub-editor, rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead its readers.

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19 Comments

  • Alix Mortimer 20th May '09 - 3:32pm

    “Phil’s expenses claims on the original flat relate only to the period when it was registered as his second home”

    Agreed. But they were expenses that improved/serviced the capital worth of the property. Which she is now living in.

    This actually indicates a limitation with the capital repayment solution proposed by Clegg. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card in this case because the taxpayer hasn’t realised the capital gain when they should have done (i.e. when he stopped using the flat). The taxpayer is having to wait while the daughter has the utility of the gain.

    So in theory you could lodge family members in taxpayer-funded properties for life, and then belatedly offer back the gain to the taxpayer when they’d finished with them.

  • Alix Mortimer 20th May '09 - 3:38pm

    Although I see they also report: “the deeds for [his new flat] are held jointly between himself and his daughter”

    I wonder if this indicates a similar part-private ownership arrangement as for Andrew George? I find it hard to believe the Fees Office would openly accept an arrangement of paying someone else’s share in a property when their name was actually on the title deeds.

    Mind you I find it hard to believe a lot of what the Fees Office has accepted.

  • Patrick Milne 20th May '09 - 5:22pm

    I wrote to Mr Willis several times earlier this year to ask for his stance on the issue of providing VIP travel, food, accomodation and lodging at my expense for the failed asylum seeker, (whose limited right to remain in the UK had expired) Binyam Mohammed -after all, it’s not like he’s an MP.

    Mr Willis’ did not feel the need to reply to his constituent until the third communication at which point he declared himself perfectly happy for my taxes to be used to treat this ‘alleged’ victim (of his own misadventure).

    I have reminded him of this exchange this morning as he does seem to continue to think that money grows on trees, rather than having to be hard earned.

    Will he be taking just a state pension when he steps down, or has the gravy train still got quite a few more stops to call at for him?

    I think we should be told.

  • Funny coincidence that the two LibDem MPs so far under the spotlight regarding London properties both have daughters in the modelling profession. (The other being Andrew George)

  • All within the rules, but in what way was owning two flats next to each other “wholly, exclusively and necessarily” required the performance of Parliamentary duties?

    He now has two flats, both purchased and possibly improved with taxpayers money. Even if any capital gain is returned there is a considerable utility gain from the situation.

    Stephen’s defence is basically a longer, more elegant version of that good old standby, “it was within the rules and the claims were approved by the fees office”.

  • Patrick Milne 21st May '09 - 11:50am

    Mark,

    Binyam has a right to treated decently in his own country, which isn’t this one. He had no right to come here in the first place, was refused asylum, was given a short period to remain and left of his own volition to be a jihadi wannabe with the Taliban savages – during which time that limited right to stay expired.

    I have seen no evidence against or convictions of people who are alleged to have mistreated him. I certainly didn’t.

    Perhaps he could go and live at your house?

  • Alix Mortimer 21st May '09 - 12:20pm

    “Perhaps he could go and live at your house?”

    I just love the way people produce this as if it’s some kind of clincher and we’re all supposed to leap a mile in the air in horror and go “ew! a foreign person in my house? no thank yew!”

    The answer is “Yes, in principle why not?” Under the current system I happily pay taxes so that he can live in someone else’s house at my expense. So give me back my taxes, pay for any necessary alterations to the spare room and I’ll put him up no problem.

  • Patrick Milne 21st May '09 - 1:04pm

    Alex,

    You’re happy to pay tax so that any stray jihadi on earth, no matter how much they hate us, can live cost free in this country? Fine.

    Do accept though, that we are not all as keen to bring people who hate us, and have absolutely no right to be here, into our homes.

    Your cheap accusation of racism is way off target. (But then I think you knew that, didn’t you?)

  • Marc Bénier 21st May '09 - 3:03pm

    I’m going to sound hard core here. We can’t afford to lose any MPs’ – however Phil Willis should resign. There are no circumstances in which using taxpayers funds to purchase a second London flat can be seen to be acceptable!
    If he will not resign, then I hope the local party de-selects him. There should not be room in the Lib Dems for MPs’ who maximise the expenses system for personal gain.

  • Doesn’t this make rather a mockery of the pledge about returning capital gains?

    Evidently Phil Willis sees this as being quite consistent with hanging on to the flat although he no longer needs it for his Parliamentary duties. On that basis, presumably he would feel equally justified in hanging on to it even if he stops being an MP? Apparently the pledge, as interpreted by Mr Willis, would allow him to continue benefitting from the property until the end of his days.

    If the party is proposing this capital gains pledge be written into the rules, I hope it has something rather more watertight in mind.

  • Patrick Milne 21st May '09 - 4:01pm

    Marc Benier,

    Phil Willis is retiring and will not stand next time.

    Two flats, severance pay and a gold plated pension 10x that of the average pensioner.

    Not a bad send off…..

  • Patrick Milne 21st May '09 - 8:34pm

    MattGB,

    You missed the fact that without the Daily Telegraph lifting the lid and the reaction of an outraged public, Mr Willis and the others would have quietly and happily trousered the capital gains advantage and we would be none the wiser……

  • The first flat is in the name of himself and his wife. At any point in time the flat can be transferred wholly to his wife or his daughter without any charge and without breaking the LibDem rules. Once he has retired, he can stick 2 fingers up and not abide by any of these rules.

    When he dies, his share of the flat automatically transfers to his spouse, who has no commitment to the LibDem rules, merely to Inheritance Tax law.

    Same for the second flat.

    Both of these were bought with taxpayers’ money in order that he could carry out his Parliamentary duties.

    I would have seen no problem in selling the first flat to buy a larger one to accommodate his family visitng him, using the funds from the first as the deposit. But there are double standards here – he does not need constant help, he merely wants the reassurance of his daughter to be close by, when and if she is around.

    It makes a mockery of the MPs who are vilified for claiming mortgage interest payments on houses that had no mortgage any longer. What they should have done was bought another property with the taxpayer’s money, and they would be perfectly okay!

    This is so far off the spirit of the rules it’s a,mazing. This is not flipping, it’s tycooning.

  • Yes, I don’t think it’s enough to make a pledge that capital gains will be returned at some unspecified time in the future.

    I think this needs to happen whenever a property stops being the designated second home, for whatever reason.

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