DISGRACED peer Lord Hanningfield says he is now living life on the breadline after the parliamentary expenses scandal ended his career and tarnished his years of public service.
Lord Hanningfield, 73, jailed for parliamentary expenses fraud in 2011, says he is getting by on his state pension and a “small” pension from his time as a farmer.
His bungalow in West Hanningfield is on the market, as he attempts to downsize, and his savings have been wiped out to pay legal bills associated with his court case over expenses, which saw him jailed for nine months.
But he says when he looks back on how his career collapsed so spectacularly he still can’t believe how – or why – it happened.
He was jailed when he was found guilty at Chelmsford Crown Court for false accounting at the House of Lords – one allegation was he had claimed an overnight stay in London when he was actually on a plane to India.
He says: “We were encouraged to claim anything – to claim as many expenses as you could, because you don’t get paid much.
“One of the headlines was I claimed for an overnight stay in London when I was actually on a plane to India. What was ironic was that was actually OK.
“Because I was on parliamentary duty, it didn’t matter where I was, I could still claim the overnight allowance. The fact I was on a plane to India while on parliamentary duty was neither here or there. There was nothing wrong with that.
“I have never named names, but there were dozens of people who were doing that.
“I didn’t think I was doing anything criminal. I would never do anything criminal. I thought because everyone said “claim everything” it was legitimate, particularly as I wasn’t keeping the money for myself. I was using it to pay someone.”
Lord Hanningfield feels much of the fall-out following his court case was because the public assumed he was a rich man skimming even more cash from the public purse.
But he says the reality was a long way from that.
“In those days I was claiming about £28,000 a year – and I was paying someone a bit more than £20,000, so there wasn’t a lot left for myself for general expenses.
You have to eat, have reasonable clothes, you have to do all sorts of things, you have to treat people a lot, you have to pay for things in the House of Lords.
“As a peer, there is no salary.
Now there’s a flat rate of £300 a day. Then it was £50 a day for being a peer, but there were various categories which took it up towards £280 a day.
“I was at the House of Lords, on average, about 100 days a year.
"At £280 a day, that’s about £28,000.
On the market - Hanningfield's bungalow
“When it’s in the papers we can claim £300 a day, people think you can get £300 for 300 days a year.
“Three hundred days a year at £300 sounds like a reasonable amount of money to anybody, but when it’s 100 days, it’s not so good.
“You have to be a peer for 365 days a year. You have to act as a peer, you have to sort the post every day.
“We’re not given any staff at all. When you’re an MP, you get £200,000 a year for your staff.
Most MPs have about four people.
A peer doesn’t get any staffing at all – you have to pay staff yourself if you want some help.
“That £300 flat daily rate helps pay for it.
“It’s accepted, more or less, that you claim expenses so you can pay any staff you have, and to help you live day to day.
“When I was asked to be a peer, they said you get generous expenses. At my trial, the judge said to me that if I couldn’t afford to be a peer, I shouldn’t be one.
That’s a bit of a funny thing to say. So he’s saying that everyone in politics who wants to help, must have a private income. I didn’t think that was fair at all.
“I don’t have family wealth to fall back on. I’m very, very hard up now. I paid my own legal fees to start with – I had some Legal Aid in the end – and I had to pay money back to various sources, so the whole thing cost me more than £250,000. It was horrific, and that’s eaten any private income I had. It has wiped me out. I have a mortgage now, which isn’t really what you want when you’re almost 74 years old.”
Lord Hanningfield admits the fall-out from the case has been severe and says he is now living on a state pension He says: “This has wiped me out. I don’t have savings any more. My house is on the market and I’m downsizing. I don’t live in a big house.
“I am living now on my state pension. Before I got into politics I was a farmer, and I have a small farming pension. That’s all I have. It’s not enough.
“I have mortgaged my house to pay my debts. I was mortgage free until I started, and I would have had enough to keep me going. But I can’t afford to pay a mortgage now.
“I feel bemused by it all, and why it has happened to me.
“People see I’m a peer, and a Lord, and they think my expenses were the icing on a very big cake. They weren’t. They were what I needed to live on.
“A lot of Lords do have very big pensions. If you were a judge or a general, or something like that, you have reasonable pensions.
“A lot of people now in the House of Lords are just ordinary people, which is how it should be.
“In the old days, 200 or 300 years ago, Lords could make money by dishing out favours and things like that. Obviously these days there’s nothing like that. I realise I’m a peer and I am news in Essex. But on Google someone I have tried to help has said enough is enough, and that I should be able to get on with my life. I have done my time.
“My punishment has been quite considerable. No-one else would have been sent to prison for £13,000. I’d have expected a suspended sentence or probation to help young offenders or young people.
“It’s funny, but in prison I was asked by some people if, when they got out, they could they use my castle for a rave.
“I live in a bungalow in West Hanningfield. I’ve been an ordinary person my whole life. But why shouldn’t ordinary people be in politics?
“My crime, if it is a crime, is pretty trivial really.
“I want to get back to the Lords and fight for the causes I believe in. I am very keen on supporting Essex.
“I make enemies because I’m pretty determined about things. I pursue causes.
“I feel I could have been helped a little bit more by the House of Lords during my trial, but of course it was the time of expenses being right at the top of the agenda and they didn’t want to get involved, and I suffered for that.
“So many people could have said I didn’t do anything differently to hundreds of other people, as other politicians have said to me. I drew the short straw.
"Plenty of people have said to me, even in the Lords, why was I sent to prison when other people weren’t, for doing the same thing?”