The great expenses swindle

Feb 27 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Hankering after that fetching brass Masonic door knocker, but a bit strapped for cash? Need to neuter the cat but worried about the vet's bill? Don't worry, just stick it on expenses just like the 6.3 million British workers who regularly pull a fast one for these and other outrageous "business" costs.

A survey by budget hotel chain Travelodge of 4,000 British workers found more than a fifth 22 per cent cheerfully admitted to ripping off their employers.

Extrapolating this finding to the UK working population as a whole would mean 6.3 million workers swindling their bosses, with the total bill running into billions of pounds, the chain calculated.

On average, workers expected to make some 14.60 on every claim they made, which would normally be at least once a month.

Over the course of a year this would total 175.60 of dodgy expense claims and a whopping 7,796 over a working lifetime, it argued.

While items such as petrol, train tickets, car parking and food and drink were the most common items to be fiddled, some workers were breathtakingly audacious or stupid in thinking what they could get away with.

Claims cited by the research included extravagant holidays to Monte Carlo, Paris and New York, a hamster for son's birthday present and a pregnancy kit for a one night stand.

Others included the use of a prostitute, collectable stamps for personal collection, dancing lessons, a family trip to Disney World, a Caribbean cruise, a Gucci watch, condoms and new furniture for the house.

One person in the poll admitted to using his wife's receipt to claim for a flight to the US, even though she worked in a different company, while another claimed for a new wardrobe of clothes after he had been thrown out of the family home.

Almost a third of men admitted to claiming more than they have spent compared with just under a fifth of women, Travelodge found.

Nearly half of workers polled believed swindling expense claims was a legitimate way of making extra cash, and nearly six out of 10 said all their colleagues were doing it.

Just seven per cent said they feel guilty about inventing claims.

One in twenty admitted to using their expense account to impress the opposite sex while eight per cent of businessmen took the liberty of claiming cash for hotel adult channels.

More than a third of men said they had claimed for booze on their company account compared with a quarter of female workers.

However four out of 10 female workers admitted to claiming expenses for new clothes and accessories.

Perhaps one reason why fiddling of expenses is so common is because it is so clear workers, by and large, will get away with it, the survey concluded a mere four per cent of employees had been caught out by their bosses.

And some eight per cent said they would purposely add more to their monthly expense claims if their boss was annoying them.

Guy Parsons, Travelodge chief operating officer, said: "Our research certainly highlights some outrageous flouting of expenses claiming policies but it is everyday claims that are being manipulated on a more regular basis.

"Extra mileage claims or the odd bottle of wine whilst entertaining can really rack up a business' bill over the year," he added.