Bill English gives up housing allowance

Last updated 18:27 28/09/2009

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Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has announced he will not receive any more taxpayer-funding housing allowances.

The finance minister this afternoon confirmed actions he had taken with the aim of putting the "unnecessary distraction" of the row over his housing expenses behind him.

His announcement comes ahead of an informal meeting scheduled with the Auditor-General's office this evening to discuss an investigation into his housing allowances claim.

Mr English said he:

* Would no longer receive a housing allowance.

* Had not received any housing allowance payments since July 28.

* Had repaid all housing allowance payments received since last November's election to Ministerial Services.

* Had received a legal opinion from Stephen Kos, QC, that changes made to his family trust arrangements did not affect his eligibility for the housing allowance.

"What I'm announcing today reflects a set of personal decisions I have made about my own situation," Mr English said.

"It is in no way setting a precedent for others although I make the point here that I believe Parliament does have to think how it can accommodate the families of long-term politicians.

"At all times my decisions have been driven by my desire to keep my family together and provide them with as much stability as possible. It's now clear that the system has struggled to deal with my circumstances."

A TV One poll showed that voters felt the issue was denting Mr English's credibility.

Asked if the issue had damaged his credibility, 62 percent said yes and 27 percent no; asked if Mr English has acted with integrity, 54 percent said no and 30 percent yes.

The Deputy Prime Minister considers the Southland town of Dipton, in his electorate, to be his primary residence under parliamentary rules, but his family has lived in, and owned, a house in Wellington for years.

He came under fire when it was revealed he was now claiming a much higher allowance to stay in the Wellington house than when he lived there as an opposition MP.

He admitted that it was "a bad look" and paid back the $12,000 difference in allowances.

Auditor-General Lyn Provost has asked for more information before deciding whether to investigate a complaint by Progressive Party leader Jim Anderton into the matter.

Today, a spokesman for Mr English said the Auditor-General's office wrote to the minister after receiving the complaint.

They said "feel free" to get in touch and Mr English has done that.

He will meet with a team from the office tonight for informal talks which will not form part of the inquiry, the spokesman said.

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Mr English will be informed about what the Auditor-General's office is doing.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson said the pressure had forced Mr English to do the right thing.

''But we believe other issues around his housing allowance still need to be cleared up - in particular his actions late last year and early this year when he was trying to qualify for the larger allowance. For example, we still don't know why Mr English changed his trust deed and why John Key accepted this,'' Mr Hodgson said.

''Given Mr English has told everyone else to tighten their belts, he had no choice but to not take any housing allowance. We welcome anything that attempts to tidy up this messy situation.

''Whatever the technicalities, its clear that Mr English has not lived in Dipton for some time and it's regrettable that it has taken pressure from the media and the Opposition for him to finally admit this.''

Mr English said his family home in Dipton was where he was raised with 11 siblings, it was located on English Road and his family had been there for 120 years.

''It is not really up to anyone else to decide just whether it is home.''

- with NZPA

- The Dominion Post

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