Nigel Farage is facing fresh questions over his European expenses after he admitted that an office for which he claimed more than £205,000 from the taxpayer was provided to him free of charge by a Ukip supporter.
The Electoral Commission is considering what action to take, because donations such as rent-free office space should have been declared to the body within 30 days of a regulated person accepting the benefits.
Farage failed to do this, meaning that it appeared the office – near Bognor Regis – was leased on a commercial basis. However, Ukip said he declared the donation in a register in the European parliament and this was the logical place to make the declaration.
The Electoral Commission sought clarification in April over Farage's failure to declare these donations-in-kind, leading Farage to register 14 separate donations dating back to 2001, with a total value of over £205,000, on 14 May. The non-cash donations came from party supporter John Longhurst.
The Electoral Commission can levy a fine if it deems the breach of rules sufficiently serious.
The Times suggested earlier this year that Farage received £15,000 a year from the EU to pay for his constituency office. But since the office, an old grain-store near Lyminster, was rent-free, the true cost of administering the office was close to £3,000 a year – suggesting £12,000 a year was unaccounted for.
In his correspondence with the Electoral Commission, Farage has confirmed he did not have to pay rent on the office for 14 years. This leaves him needing to explain where more than £160,000 of taxpayers' money from the European parliament has gone.
He has said the expenses are an allowance and therefore he does not need to account for the individual expenditure. He has said "How I spend that money is up to me" and that he was spending thousands of pounds on electricity because he is "running machines" and "banks of computers".
He said he had declared it as a benefit in kind there every year since 2001.
He added: "The Electoral Commission decided it's a donation in kind to Ukip. I don't understand it for a moment. I took advice which I thought at the time was right."
A Ukip spokesman said: "Every year since 2001, Mr Farage has declared in his European parliament register of interests the use of a rent-free office from J Longhurst Ltd. The premises has been used as his MEP office so the European parliamentary register was the logical place for it to be declared."
Speaking on the BBC Today programme at the outset of the European elections, Farage said he would be happy to have his office accounts audited by an independent accountant "if it would settle the argument".
Days later he refused to do so saying he would not be singled out as the only one of 73 MEPs to have his accounts independently audited. In fact all UK MEPs other than those from Ukip have had their accounts audited.
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