It turns out MSPs can claim expenses for "non arrival" charges if they fail to use a hotel room.
The parliament is being very tight-lipped about the issue, refusing to go beyond saying there have been six instances in the current financial year, 2013-14.
Of these, four are logged on the public expenses database, and two are pending.
Officials won't say how many cases there were in 2012-13.
However I've managed to find four instances in 2012-13 and three in 2013-14 so far.
The biggest claimer was SNP MSP Joan McAlpine, with three counts that I know of.
Four other MSPs have claimed single instances, from what I can tell.
Labour say Ms McAlpine should "do the right thing" and repay the money.
Here's the full story:
AN MSP at the centre of an expenses row billed taxpayers hundreds of pounds for hotel rooms she never stayed in, it has emerged.
Joan McAlpine, an SNP list MSP for the South of Scotland and a parliamentary aide to the First Minister, claimed almost £300 for rooms she didn’t use in 2012 and 2013.
The expenses are recorded as “non-arrival charge” and “no show” in official files.
Ms McAlpine refused to explain the empty rooms, however the SNP attributed them to personal reasons.
The claims were within Holyrood's rules, but Labour said Ms McAlpine should “do the right thing” and repay the money.
There have been at least nine instances of MSPs reclaiming such charges in 2012-13 and 2013-14, however the parliament refuses to say how many exactly, or name the MSPs involved.
Ms McAlpine claimed the money in early 2012 for hiring photographer Jane McLachlan.
Before she became an MSP, McAlpine had an affair with the woman’s husband, Mark McLachlan.
Ms McAlpine repaid the £1750 on 18 October 2012.
According to Mrs McLachlan, this was only five days after she discovered the affair and threatened to expose it.
Mrs McLachlan told a newspaper the 10 days of photography work - which was paid in advance - was never completed and accused the MSP of trying to “cover her tracks”.
Ms McAlpine has asked Holyrood’s Presiding Officer to consider whether the £1750 claim breached any rules and a report is being prepared for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.
The new controversy concerns three missed nights at Edinburgh hotels.
In 2012, Ms McAlpine claimed £101 for a “non arrival charge” for 12 November and a further £101.50 for 10 December.
She also claimed £95 for a hotel “no show” on 25 August last year.
|The non-arrival charges recorded in the parliament's database|
Although the claims amounted to only £297.50 from a total Edinburgh hotel bill of more than £15,000 since her election, Labour said Ms McAlpine should still repay it.
A spokesman said: “Joan McAlpine needs to explain why she thinks taxpayers should pay for hotel rooms she booked at their expense but did not turn up to.
“She should do the right thing and pay the money back.”
An SNP spokesman said: “Illness and last minute family reasons meant Joan had to return home on these occasions at short notice. This only happened on a very small number of occasions, and was done in the full knowledge of the parliament’s allowances office who permitted the payment.”
Ms McAlpine did not respond to a request for comment.
However, speaking on her behalf, lawyer Aamer Anwar said: “It would be impossible for Joan McAlpine or any other MSP to predict what might happen during the course of a working day.
“There has been no breach of rules. Last minute cancellations can happen from time to time.”
Four other MSPs are also known to have claimed for non-arrival charges.
In 2012-13, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon claimed £95 for 30 October 2012 and Local Government Minister Derek Mackay claimed £113 for 28 March 2013.
In 2013-14, Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham claimed £95 for 21 May 2013, and Labour list MSP for Glasgow Anne McTaggart claimed £113 in October 2013.
All four claims related to Edinburgh accommodation.
However the parliament's refusal to disclose further details - without recourse to FoI - means this is an incomplete picture.
|Non arrival charges claimed by other MSPs|
She said: “Situations may arise at very short notice where it is not possible for the Member to stay overnight in Edinburgh and as a result a cancellation or non-show fee may be charged.”