The £0.5bn expenses bill

No, not the latest MP submission - that's the amount business travellers are failing to claim each year.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Our MPs may be pretty good at racking up expenses, but UK business travellers seem to be getting steadily worse at it. British employees have notched up almost half a billion pounds in unclaimed expenses in the last year, according to a new Barclaycard survey - that's about £373 each, and the number of claimants has also dropped significantly. While claiming for a colourful array of items has obviously been de rigeur at Westminster, the rest of us seem happy to pay for our own moat-cleaning and wreaths. So are we just getting lazier, or are we trying to take one for the team?

The survey (of 2,200 UK business travellers) found that a massive £473,724,174 of receipts went unclaimed last year. Apparently men are worse at claiming than their female colleagues, while senior staff are worse than junior staff (the top brass miss out on an average of £719 annually, while their PAs are failing to claim a mere £25). Barclaycard's Neil Radley puts it down to a combination of inertia (i.e. laziness) and embarrassment associated with claiming small amounts. Finding receipts may also be an issue, he says - staff could be too busy to file a claim before the cut-off date (usually no more than a couple of months). And although this £0.5bn saving may have given the UK's corporate coffers a welcome boost of late, it could be a bit painful if employees suddenly wake up, smell the unclaimed coffee receipts and try to claim it all back.

Interestingly, there's been an 18% year-on-year drop in the number of employees regularly claiming expenses - suggesting, says Barclaycard, that we are becoming less financially prudent as a nation. But this seems a bit far-fetched to us. Surely it's just as likely that in an era of mounting redundancies, employees are just keen to keep their heads down and not look greedy? Besides, companies will argue that they don't actually save as much money as this, because the inaction of this inert minority is more than offset by the more enthusiastic claimants, shall we say (who may be just as numerous).
So what's the answer? Not surprisingly, Barclaycard thinks that centralised systems and responsible use of company credit cards are the way forward. It also suggested that the Government should step in and introduce some general guidelines for UK plc, just as they're doing in Westminster. After all, our MPs certainly appear to know their way around an expenses form, so it's quite possible they could dispense some useful tips for the rest of us.

In today's bulletin:

Don't Bank on quantitative easing, says Merkel
Network Rail keeps profits on track but misses efficiency target
New Look fashions 10% profit hike
The £0.5bn expenses bill
MT Special: Deborah Meaden talks common sense

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