MPs could fall foul of both the Theft Act and the Fraud Act if they have claimed public funds under the second homes allowance for items or services which they have not purchased, a leading criminal lawyer said yesterday.
False accounting is an offence covered by the 1968 Theft Act and carries a sentence of up to seven years. Sections in the 2006 Fraud Act, which was introduced in January 2007, replaced the former offence of obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception.
The new laws were designed to make it easier for prosecutors to reach a conviction, because fraud was notoriously difficult to prove under the old legislation.
The relevant section in the Fraud Act states that a person is guilty of fraud if he “dishonestly makes a false representation” and carries a sentence of up to 10 years.
It states that a representation is false if the person making it “knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading”.
If the offence is committed both before and after January 2007, the prosecution could bring the whole case under the new laws.
Every time the MPs submit an expenses claim, they must sign and date a statement that reads that they incurred the costs “wholly, necessarily and exclusively” for staying away from their main home overnight.
They are reminded that the details of costs they can claim for are set out in the “Green Book”, which lists the parliamentary rules.
It also adds that MPs can only claim for “costs you have actually paid”.