MP Christmas parties: politicians told they can expense festive food, drink and decorations to taxpayer

A watchdog has told MPs they can host Christmas parties at taxpayers’ expense.

<p>A watchdog has told MPs they can host Christmas parties at taxpayers’ expense. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorld</p>

A watchdog has told MPs they can host Christmas parties at taxpayers’ expense. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorld

MPs have been told for the first time they can expense the cost of their office Christmas parties to taxpayers.

Under new guidance from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), MPs will be able to claim back money spent on festive celebrations on their parliamentary expenses, meaning anything claimed will be paid for by the taxpayer.

IPSA outlined that the “hospitality” claims could be made for Christmas decorations (such as lights, tinsel, and a tree), food and drink for an “office festive event”, printing and sending seasonal cards, and a party in an MP’s constituency, if it is “within a parliamentary context”. MPs were explicitly told they could not use expenses for alcohol, a festive or new year calendar, and any decorations outside their constituency offices.

Politicians were also urged to ensure any gathering represents “value for money, especially in the current economic climate,” as millions are feeling the weight of the cost of living crisis. MPs were also warned not to do anything which may be considered “self-promotional”, such as sending Christmas cards to “large groups of all constituents”.

The advice was reportedly issued in response to frequently asked questions about whether or not expenses could be used to cover festive celebrations. It comes as the expenses watchdog also revealed that the costs incurred by MPs rose to £138.6 million last year, mostly due to rising staff costs.

MPs can claim the cost of food, drink and decorations - but not alcohol or anything which may be considered ‘self-promotional’. Credit: Getty Images

IPSA’s chief executive Ian Todd said: “At IPSA, we believe in providing transparency to the public, and for making sure that the information we publish is accessible and meaningful.”

Some have already criticised the move, with the TaxPayers’ Alliance saying MPs “already get a plum deal without taxpayer-funded office jollies”. The organisation’s chief executive John O’Connell told MailOnline: “While businesses and households in their constituencies pay for parties out of their own pockets, politicians get to dip into the public purse. MPs who want Christmas bashes should foot the bill themselves."

‘No one asked for this’

Some politicians have hit out at the new guidance and claimed “no one” asked for the rule change, telling constituents they will not be using expenses to pay for festivities.

Labour MP Jess Philips wrote on Twitter: “Just want to say no one asked for this, no one I know will use it. The guidance wasn’t made by MPs and yet we will be pilloried for it. I think it’s really irresponsible to issue this guidance as if MPs have been clamouring for it when I’ve literally never heard anyone do that.”

She added that she uses the same Christmas tree in her office every year, uses homemade decorations made by children from a local school, and if she throws a party for staff, it will be in her own home and she will “pay for all the food and drink”. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly shared her tweet on his page.

Another Labour MP, Chris Bryant, echoed her thoughts - calling the new rule “totally inappropriate” and saying he didn’t “know a single MP who asked for this or intends to use it”, while the SNP’s Stewart McDonald called for IPSA to reverse the “universally unwelcome” guidance.

Meanwhile, social media users slammed the move, with many citing the cost of living crisis as the reason it is so unwelcome. One user called it a “disgrace”, another said it is “beyond awful at a time when so many families are struggling to buy decent groceries that make filling meals”, and a third directed a tweet to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, asking, “is this really the right message to send to he struggling public?”