English to pay back his housing allowance

BY MARTIN KAY
Last updated 21:16 05/08/2009
Bill English
ANDREW GORRIE/Dominion Post
BILL ENGLISH: 'I'm the Minister of Finance. It's my job to lead by example.'

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Deputy Prime Minister Bill English will pay back more than $12,000 of the taxpayer-funded accommodation allowance he has received for living in his $1.2 million family home in Wellington.

Mr English has come under intense scrutiny after The Dominion Post revealed he had been claiming nearly $1000 a week for living in the home, which has been classed as his ministerial residence.

Mr English has insisted his claims were within the rules, and that he had decided to stay in the house to keep his family together, as was his right.

But he said today he accepted there was a perception that he was claiming more than ordinary MPs who live in homes they have an interest in, and though he had done nothing wrong, there was only one way to change that perception.

"The fact is no amount of detail will change the perception that in some way I'm gaining a bigger allowance than other members of Parliament, so I've decided to deal with that perception.

"I'm the Minister of Finance. It's my job to lead by example, so I'll be getting in touch with the Ministerial Services to pay back the difference between the rate I'm on and the other rate going back to the election."

Under Parliament's rules, ordinary MPs can claim a maximum of $24,000 a year for accommodation. Figures issued last week show Mr English claimed $23,763 for the first six months of this year, leaving a difference of $11,763. The amount he pays back will be several thousand higher as he has agreed to backdate it to the Novermber 8 election.

Mr English's home is held in a family trust, but he and his wife Mary were named on the title deed till March this year, when the ownership changed into her name alone.

He gave up his interest in the trust at the end of last year for financial and personal interests which he has not detailed. 

Prime Minister John Key said he had played no part in Mr English's decision.

"I support him in that move," Mr Key told reporters in Cairns where he is attending the Pacific Island Forum leaders summit.

"He hasn't broken any rules but in politics perception can seem like reality and so he has felt it important to repay the money."

Mr Key said the situation highlighted the importance of the review he has ordered into ministerial housing arrangements.

"I don't like the thought of my ministers feeling as though they are ripping off the New Zealand taxpayer when they are just observing the rules that have been there for decades," he said.

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