The government has been shaken by the steady leak of information detailing the items politicians claimed in their recent expense reports.
The scale of parliamentarians' alleged abuse of the expense system ranges from those who claimed thousands of pounds on second homes and furniture to those who filed expenses on the minuscule, such as candy bars and bathroom plugs.
Lawmakers' expense claims were due to be published in July after a U.S. freelance journalist, Heather Brooke, won a freedom of information campaign to have them published. But the Daily Telegraph newspaper began publishing details last week after obtaining leaked information.
From the governing Labor Party, politicians' shopping list examples include: Tourism Minister Barbara Follett's $805.78 claim for a Chinese needlepoint rug to be repaired and cleaned; Universities spokesman David Willets' $150 claim for workers to change 25 light bulbs; politician Margaret Moran's $30,000 claim for repairing dry rot in a house nowhere near her constituency nor near Parliament; and, as the representative for Hull in the north of England, John Prescott's claim to have his toilet seat fixed ... twice.
Things don't fare much better for the Conservative Party. Claims include more than $3,000 to repair piping under tennis courts, the maintenance of a "helipad" and the upkeep of swimming pools.
One Conservative backbencher, Douglas Hogg, has denied claiming $3,055 to cover the cost of clearing a moat on his country estate but admitted claiming $22,147 for the cost of a housekeeper. Deputy Commons Speaker Alan Haslehurst is reported to have claimed $217,000 on his country house and $18,347 for gardening bills for five years.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to apologize Monday for some of the claims and said that public trust must be restored immediately. "I want to apologize on behalf of politicians, on behalf of all parties, for what has happened in the events of the last few days," he told reporters.
Even the Prime Minister Used Taxpayer Funds to Pay His Brother
But even the prime minister may have dirty hands, given that he paid his brother more than $10,000 for employing a cleaner for two years to clean properties owned by them in London. Downing Street has said that Brown's use of Parliament expenses to pay his brother for cleaning was entirely legitimate.
There are various ways that members of Parliament have been able to find loopholes in the "expenses rules" laid out in a set of parliamentary guidelines known as the "Green Book."
Most politicians accused of submitting lavish expense claims were technically following guidelines. but as Michael Martin, the Commons speaker, put it when he addressed members of Parliament Monday, politicians had to consider "the spirit of what is right" when making claims.
One particular claim that has raised a public outcry is the second-homes allowance, which opponents complain is a way for politicians to boost their property portfolio.
Parliamentarians can claim an allowance on a second home so they can serve their constituency and visit Westminster, home to the English Parliament. But some abusers nominate the "wrong" second home, others partake in "flipping" back and forth between homes so they can claim for renovation work on both properties and some have been caught buying goods for the "wrong" home.
Other cases involve members of Parliament renting out their second homes and making renovations before resigning. Lawmakers are also allowed to keep any profit they make when they sell their second homes.
The member for Salford, Hazel Blears, for instance, was criticized after claiming expenses on a second home in London before selling it for a $68,000 profit. According to the leaked expense claims in the Daily Telegraph, Blears "flipped" her home twice in year, she claimed for a mortgage on a second home but then didn't pay the 40 percent capital gains tax, then charged on the sale of second homes.
Although this wasn't technically breaking any rules, Blears told ABC News that, "The system of parliamentary allowances is unacceptable, and must be changed urgently."
Is the British Parliament Full of Tax Cheats?
Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron told the BBC that he's angry about what has happened. "It is out of order," he said. "Some of this is an abuse of taxpayers' money, and I am going to deal with it."
Three Tory members of Parliament have offered to pay back money claimed on their swimming pools and the Conservative leader has indicated he will take action to discipline those who have abused the system.
The British public has apparently been unknowingly picking up the bill to subsidize lifestyles that they can only imagine and the revelations couldn't have come at a worse time with millions facing unemployment. And voters are angry.
One particular incident that incensed many was Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's claim for her husband's porn movie . Smith claimed to know nothing about this, and her husband was forced to make an humiliating public apology.
Party support has sunk to an all-time low as Brits stand united in anger against the fallout. A Populus Ltd. poll for The Times newspaper found soon after the first disclosures that faith in the Labor and Conservative parties has dropped by 4 percentage points. Many voters believe MP's are out of touch and guilty of abuse.
Gianna Goulding, a charity worker based in London, told ABC News she is disgusted. "How are we expected to vote now, Parliament is fast becoming a place full of cheats," she said.
James Francis, from a Central London production company, told ABC News he thinks that while some expenses are justified, others are clearly not. "I read that one politician claimed for his lawnmower to be repaired; that's obscene, given the state of the NHS [National Health Service], benefits and unemployment rate. People don't have disposable income anymore but we're still expected to pay taxes that are spent on their home comforts."
The authorized version of the expense claims set to be released in July is now being move up a month and discussions have begun on plans to overhaul the entire politician expense system.