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MPs' housing perks cause controversy

Published: 6:25PM Tuesday August 04, 2009 Source: ONE News

The MPs' expenses controversy just keeps getting more embarrassing for politicians.

ONE News has already reported how ministers are claiming thousands of dollars for living in the capital, despite owning property there.

Now, ONE News has revealed that ministers are renting out their Wellington properties to other MPs and then claiming money to pay the rent living elsewhere.

That is giving ministers two bites at taxpayer cash despite their $250,000 salaries.

The housing minister is himself a landlord, he rents out his Wellington property to another MP.

This is how it works.

Phil Heatley rents out his apartment to an unnamed National MP. The MP claims a maximum of $24,000 a year in accommodation costs from the taxpayer and that money goes to Heatley who lives in another house with ministerial services paying the annual rent of about $53,000. That makes a total taxpayer contribution of about $77,000 a year.

Heatley justifies the situation by saying he moved his family to Wellington "Jenny and I made the decision to bring our young family down to Wellington with me because the kids are pretty young. There are three of them and we want to be together," said Heatley.

Wayne Mapp does the same thing. He rents his apartment to National MP Kanwal Bakshi. Bakshi claims nearly $20,000 in accommodation costs from the taxpayer and that money goes to Mapp. Mapp lives in another house and ministerial services pays the annual rent of more than $37,000. A total taxpayer contribution of about $57,000 a year. Mapp says that the money he receives is paid into a trust and that his property is rented out at market rates.

Phil Goff also rents out his Wellington flat whilst living elsewhere in the capital on the public purse. When asked by ONE News why he doesn't just live in the flat and not claim public money, Goff said "Because the flat is currently tenanted and I plan to sell it."

Revelations about how much Bill English was claiming to live in his own home started the controversy but English believes there are more important issues at stake.

"After four days of discussing this issue, there are bigger things going on in the country, like a recession," said English.

Then again, the tough times are a big factor in why the media is so interested in this story in the first place.