What perks do New Zealand's MPs really get?

By Susan Edmunds of RNZ

Another day, another member of parliament in the news for their expense claims.

First it was Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, claiming $52,000 a year for the use of his Wellington home instead of shifting in to Premier House. (He later said he would no longer claim it.)

Then more recently, Ōtaki MP Tim Costley was revealed to be claiming an allowance of $36,000 for a Wellington apartment he owns.

Then Masterton-based Kieran McAnulty made headlines for claiming the same allowance to rent a Lower Hutt property from his wife.

So how do the allowances work, and what are some of the other perks MPs get?

Prime Minister's housing allowance

The prime minister is entitled to the use of Premier House, in Wellington.

As Luxon demonstrated, those who do not live in Wellington and do not choose to live in Premier House can claim up to $52,000 in a "continuous accommodation payment" each year.

If the PM does not take that allowance, he can claim reimbursement of "actual and reasonable" expenses in a hotel in Wellington.

That can be up to $350 a night or $52,000 a year. (It may be important to note that this does not include payment for meals, laundry, minibar or parking.)

The speaker, deputy speaker and ministers can also be allocated an official residence if they do not live in Wellington already, or receive the $52,000 payment.

MPs' housing allowance

MPs can claim up to $36,400 a year in continuous accommodation payments if they are normally based outside Wellington, or up to $260 a night if they stay in commercial premises - or $70 a night elsewhere.

If they share with other people, the maximum continuous accommodation payment is reduced - when living with one other person, they can receive 70 percent, with two it is 60 percent and with three, 55 percent.

Wellington accommodation expense payments can be increased in special circumstances that stop the MPs travelling as they normally would.

Accommodation and travel

Accommodation is paid for members who are travelling outside Wellington for work. Ministers, the speaker and the leader of the opposition can claim up to $425 per night for accommodation in Queenstown or $350 outside Queenstown.

For other members of parliament, accommodation can be up to $290 a night in Queenstown or $260 outside Queenstown.

"MPs are only able to use travel for 'Parliamentary purposes' and there is a specific separate determination that the authority updates every three years which allows strictly controlled and limited travel for spouses to accompany MPs, travelling within New Zealand for Parliamentary purposes, to attempt to instal some family-friendliness into their existence," Remuneration Authority chair Geoff Summers said.

Travel overseas by MPs can be funded by leadership funds or a rebate, but this travel has to be approved by the Speaker and party leader or whip.

The leader of the opposition can use $150,000 from the travel appropriation over a term of Parliament.

Partners and family members

A member of parliament can claim the expense of an evening meal up to a maximum $80 for their spouse or partner if it was necessary or appropriate for the spouse to be there, they had to be away overnight and a meal was not provided.

As Summers said, partners and children have access to travel services too.

Members' partners are limited to taking up to 20 one-way trips in a year. Partners of a minister, speaker, deputy speaker, or the leader of the opposition may take up to 30. There is no cap for the prime minister's partner, or children aged under 18.

The prime minister's partner can make use of a chauffeur-driven car if they are fulfilling their role. For parliamentary purposes, partners of the speaker, deputy speaker, ministers, leader of the opposition and the leader of a party with 25 or more members in parliament can also make use of cars.

Partners can also claim back the costs of using their car to drop off an MP at an event, using their car for parliamentary or ministerial business, or if they are joining the MP at a destination.

End of employment

When an MP does not stand for election or is not re-elected at the next election they can receive three months' salary.

Former prime ministers who were in the job for more than two years receive an ongoing annuity of $12,000 for each complete year in office up to a maximum $60,000 at present.

They also have travel entitlements: Former prime ministers can be paid for travel on planes, trains, ferries, non-urban buses and taxis if they are doing work related to their former role, or they can use chauffeur-driven cars. Former PMs can also have use of a self-drive car and the maintenance and fuel costs associated with that.

It used to be the case that MPs who joined Parliament before 1999 could retire with generous travel discounts, up to 90 percent of the cost of a business class flight to London a year.

Summers said that was no longer the case.

"I doubt that there are any MPs who still have those rights - the changes were applied to new members thereby 'grandparenting' existing people who already had them. I have been here now for over eight years and all those perks had long gone before I got here."

Security systems

MPs can claim for the cost of installing a security system at their home, up to a maximum $4500.

Superannuation subsidy

MPs have access to a superannuation subsidy up to two-and-a-half-times their contribution to a maximum 20 percent of salary.

A backbencher earning $168,600 contributing 3 percent of their salary would get a contribution of $12,645.

Basic allowance

MPs also receive a basic allowance each year to cover the cost of things like donations, raffle tickets, flowers, and meals. This used to also include a direction that only the PM could use it for clothes and grooming.

For the prime minister this is $26,606, for the speaker, $21,136 and every other member of parliament it is $16,980.