MPs have been told for the first time they can expense the cost of their Christmas staff parties to taxpayers.
The cost of food, drink and “festive decorations” can also be claimed, new guidance from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) states.
But politicians’ hospitality claims over the holiday cannot include alcoholic beverages, the pay and expenses watchdog said.
Ipsa issued the new guidance in response to frequently-asked questions about how MPs and their staff can celebrate during the festive season.
The watchdog confirmed that “MPs can claim the costs of food and refreshments for an office festive” in their offices, but warned “no claims are allowed for alcohol”.
MPs were told that any claims “should represent value for money, especially in the current economic climate” – as millions feel the strain of a cost of living crisis.
The guidance added: “As with all claims, value for money should be considered and all claims will be published in the usual manner.”
MPs will be allowed to charge the costs from a festive gathering in their constituency, but were told it must be “within a parliamentary context” rather than “purely a social event”.
They can even claim the cost of celebratory Christmas cards – but were warned “they should not be sent to large groups or all constituents as there is a risk this may not represent value for money and could be considered self-promotional”.
Campaigners reacted with alarm at the rules. “MPs already get a plum deal without taxpayer-funded office jollies,” John O’Connell of the TaxPayers’ Alliance told the Mail.
He added: “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.”
IPSA revealed that the total bill for MPs’ costs increased to £138.6m in 2020-21, up from £132.4m from the previous year. The biggest rise in the past two years has come from staffing costs, with a rise in casework during the Covid period.
Ipsa chief executive Ian Todd said: “We know that it has been a challenging year for MPs and they have seen another rise in casework.”
Recent analysis by The Independent found that MPs charged taxpayers almost £200,000 for energy bills and other utilities at their second homes over the past year.
Over the past three years, MPs have claimed just over £692,000 to cover these utility costs – with £538,000 alone going on heating bills.