Confessions of an Expenses Veteran

This excerpt comes from an in-depth article featured in the Guardian as part of their Work Smarter series – a collaboration between SAP Concur and the Guardian. For more great quality content and advice on ways to introduce greater efficiency into your business, visit the Work Smarter hub.


Claiming back money spent on behalf of work is a fundamental part of the business-employee relationship, but the process is ripe for exploitation and muddled thinking. One anonymous writer shares their experiences of navigating the claim game.


Everyone hates doing their expenses. It can feel like the admin equivalent of purgatory. So perhaps it’s no surprise that some of us employed in the creative industries have been known to extend our creativity to the task of claiming expenses.

We’re not talking about nefarious fraud or fiddling, of course – typically it’s just about deploying a little imagination to avoid the boredom of doing them diligently. (Mind you, filling in overtime sheets for the hours spent poring creatively over an expenses claim could appear like gaming the system.)


The trouble is, there are lots of grey areas. So when a car hire company chooses to reward a frequent renter with a red-blooded sports machine instead of the decidedly ordinary vehicle booked at the same price, that’s perfectly OK, right? Except that the snarling beast, even if driven at puppy-like speeds, uses twice the fuel. I must admit I felt a little guilty when I put in that claim for petrol.

Ditto when I claimed for the cost of fuel for a work trip, without specifying that the petrol was high-grade aviation gas for refuelling a small plane, rather than supermarket-pump unleaded for a car.


The UK’s HMRC collects some of the most outrageous attempts by taxpayers to claim spending as legitimate business expenses. My current favourite fail is insurance for a pet dog, at more than £750 for a year. One of the most common abuses is padding out expenses, usually by putting through additional claims for mileage because it’s so difficult to track and report on accurately.


But some companies don’t exactly help themselves. A manager at a magazine house I worked at decided to circumvent his bosses’ ban on extra payments for overtime by telling the hard-working staff to put in fake expenses claims. Amazingly, that overflowing gravy train continued on its phantom branch line for years before it hit the buffers.

The question of what constitutes a legitimate expense is often far from straightforward. For instance, I once found myself facing a tricky moral dilemma when a speed-gun-wielding traffic policeman demanded a fine that was almost exactly equivalent to the cash float I had for upcoming expenses. In the end, I put it down to experience and did not doctor a claim to recoup the money. But I could have elected to do the opposite.


This is just a snippet of the whole story. Read the full Guardian article here.

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