As the saga over Green co-leader Metiria Turei's admission to lying to Work and Income to keep her benefit in the 1990s and enrolling at an ex-boyfriend's house to vote for a friend has rolled on, comparisons have been made with Prime Minister Bill English claiming a housing allowance for his Wellington home until 2009 and former Prime Minister John Key enrolling to vote in the Helensville electorate despite not living there.

The Herald has fact-checked those claims to see if they are accurate.

The claims:

Green co-leader James Shaw speaking about his co-leader Metiria Turei: "Frankly when you consider that the Prime Minister, the double-dipper from Dipton, had a $32,000 housing allowance that occurred while he was a minister for a house he was claiming for and that the Prime Minister John Key was registered to vote at a house in Helensville the entire time he was Prime Minister that he never once lived in, we felt that the idea of resigning as co-leader or MP was disproportionate."

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Claim 1: That Metiria Turei lying about her living circumstances to claim the full DPB is no worse than Bill English claiming a ministerial accommodation allowance for his Wellington home until 2009.

The facts: English claimed the $24,000 accommodation allowance given to MPs who are not permanently based in Wellington until becoming a minister in 2008 and then switched to a more generous scheme for ministers.

At the time, ministers who owned their own homes in Wellington (rather than renting) were restricted to the MPs' allowance of $24,000 a year - but English had declared he had no financial interest in the house because he was not a beneficiary of the family trust that owned it.

Under the rules of the time, that meant Ministerial Services rented the house from his family trust at market rates of about $900 a week. English could also claim for other costs, such as a cleaner.

The allowance was claimed on the grounds his "primary residence" was his Dipton home, although his family had long been based in Wellington and returned to Dipton largely for holidays or constituency reasons as Clutha-Southland MP.

After coverage of his allowance in the media, in late 2009 English repaid $32,000 for the payments he claimed since becoming a minister in 2008, admitting it was a bad look but maintaining it was within the rules.

A preliminary investigation by then Auditor General Lyn Provost found English should not have been entitled to the allowance because Ministerial Services should have treated his family's interests in the trust as an indirect financial interest for him.
However, she cleared English of wrongdoing, saying he had acted on advice.

She also said English had handled the rules around "primary residence" properly because it was intended to cater for MPs who had to maintain a second house outside Wellington, whether or not they lived there in an "every day" sense. That was up to the Speaker to decide, but she said those rules were unclear. After that, the rules were overhauled and a new system put in place which gives Ministers a flat housing allowance. English has not claimed an allowance since.

Conclusion: English did claim allowances he should not have been given because of an indirect interest in his family trust, but was cleared of personal and deliberate wrongdoing based on the rules at the time. Politically it is a matter of opinion whether the English and Turei situations align - English was pilloried as a hypocrite for maximising his own taxpayer-funded entitlements while tightening the public purse strings during the Global Financial Crisis.

Claim 2: That former Prime Minister John Key was registered to vote at a house in Helensville the entire time he was Prime Minister that he never once lived in - and that compares to Turei enrolling at a someone else's house to vote for a friend.

The Facts: Key was enrolled at a house he owned in Waimauku but which he never lived in for the 2002 election. However, he changed to the Epsom electorate (which includes his Parnell home) by the 2005 election and has voted in that electorate ever since. In 2005 Labour's then President Mike Williams said the party would complain to electoral officials about Key's enrolment in Helensville.

What does the law say?
- Voters must enrol at an address "where that person chooses to make his or her home by reason of family of personal relations, or for other domestic or personal reasons."
- They must have lived at that address for at least one month before enrolling there.

According to the Electoral Commission, that does not mean a person has to enrol at the address they live for the majority of the time. The Electoral Act has a specific clauses to allow for members of Parliament who are away from their homes a lot because of their jobs as an MP - that allows them to enrol at their family home even if they spent more time in Wellington. A similar exemption exists for students who might live away from "home" to study but want to vote in their hometowns.

Electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler says on the face of it, Key's enrolment at Waimauku did not meet the requirements because it was hard to argue that somewhere Key had never lived was "home" and he had not lived there for a month prior to enrolling.

However, the offence was to "knowingly and wilfully" make a false statement or to wilfully mislead the Electoral Commission.

Key has said he enrolled at Waimauku because the Key's Parnell house was still a building site, the Remuera home the Keys lived in when they returned from overseas was on the market and he had originally intended the Waimauku house to be a weekend home for the family. When he switched to Epsom in 2005, he told the Herald that had not happened because of family and work demands. He sold the house in 2005.

Key has also claimed he sought advice from his own lawyers and the Electoral Commission and was told he could enrol at Waimauku at that time.

In Turei's case, Turei revealed in 1993 she deliberately enrolled at a house she did not live in so she could vote for a friend of hers in the Mt Albert electorate.

If convicted the punishment for giving false enrolment details is either a maximum fine of $2000 or up to three months' imprisonment. It is up to police to decide on a prosecution, but that would have had to be done within six months of the offence.

Conclusion: close, but not quite a cigar.


Claim 3: That Turei was subjected to much more scrutiny than English and Key.

The Facts: English's case was widely covered in the media in 2009 and English was the subject of attacks by Labour MPs in Parliament on the issue as well as being put through an Auditor-General inquiry. It earned him the nickname "Double Dipton" and cost him more than $30,000 as well as years of future accommodation allowances he could technically have qualified for.

A search through the archives shows the NZ Herald wrote a story in 2002 before Key entered Parliament on his plans to base his family in Parnell while buying an "electorate home" in Waimauku. A further story was written in 2005 when Key swapped his enrolment to the Epsom electorate and then Labour President Mike Williams said he would complain to the Electoral Commission about Key's earlier enrolment in Helensville.

Conclusion: English was subjected to as much scrutiny as Turei. Key was not, partly because he moved to address the situation and was still an Opposition MP rather than leader.