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How ridiculous expense claims get approved

The ridiculous expense claims employees have made are truly mind-boggling. Whilst MPs are the classic culprits, even laypeople have been known to use the company card for brazen purchases.
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As part of the new “moralisation law” pledged by president Emmanuel Macron to clean up politics, the French IRFM (which allows Assembly Members to file hospitality expense claims without having to justify them) is in the process of being challenged. This may sound like a logical reform, but you’d be surprised how much concern it is causing French politicians.

The truth is reality speaks for itself, from floating duck houses to breast implants, we’ve all heard of them – stories of people trying to file unrealistic expense claims. But whilst ridiculous claims can be funny, they are also dangerous. They can have a direct impact on the efficiency of any company and affect its bottom line.

As a boss it’s tough to strike a balance – you want to come across as cool, flexible and easy-going with your employees. But when it comes to expense claims, you need to know your limits.

MPs: The most prominent offenders

British MPs are the most prominent and well-publicised offenders of ridiculous expense claims. Since 2010 the amount MPs have claimed has actually risen by 43 per cent.

A few personal highlights include – in terms of being stingy – David Cameron’s 7p claim for foldback clips and Nick Clegg’s £1.19 claim for tea lights. For exorbitant claims, there’s Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen’s £25,000 claim for staying in a hotel for half a year after his marriage failed.

Somewhere in between is MP Peter Viggers’ infamous 2009 £1,645 claim for a duck house. Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of the house but what’s clear is that for two years the ducks enjoyed the comfort of their pavilion. Unfortunately, after Sir Peter sold his house on 1 August, 2008 they appear to have been left out in the cold.

Employees: Not that far behind

It’s actually quite difficult to choose which employee expenses claims are so shockingly appalling they deserve inclusion in this section.

One of the most infamous has to be the case of the stripper Cynthia Hess, who operates under the stage name “Chesty Love”. Hess underwent breast augmentation surgery to bolster her career. The surgery allowed her to book more gigs and bring in more tips throughout the night, and so the US Tax Court decided the surgery was an “ordinary and necessary” business expense. It allowed her to deduct the expense of the surgery from her income tax.

Then there’s the case of a UK sports journalist who claimed over £400 in car mileage for four journeys he made by bus. No medal for this cunning – his expense didn’t get approved. He did however get over 60 hours of community services and a lovely fine in return.

Other claims include a mattress pad for $25, a Cher concert ticket for $125, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for $475 and Christmas tree pyjamas for $40 – all approved!

So there you have them; the most ridiculous expense claims I could dig up in all of an hour of research I did. Seriously, I got severely depressed about one hour in and decided to stop before I threw myself into a tailspin.

Conclusion: Don’t laugh – we’re not taking this seriously enough

On a more serious note, your company’s expense claims may not be as ridiculous as this but there are lessons here. Outdated and inefficient processes can mean it’s all too easy for managers to overlook claims and simply approve.

So what can you do? Expense management tools can help clarify expense policies, modernise processes and identify patterns. Defining and implementing an expense policy that works for everyone all the time is hard. So if you don’t have an effective expense management process in place yet, I suggest you get started before it’s too late…

I’ll tell you one thing, though. I am certainly more grateful for the colleagues and employees in my own company at this point. I thought I’ve seen some fishy expense claims in my time but after seeing what people actually try to pass off as a business expense, the ones I need to deal with are starting to seem more and more legit!

Boris Bogaert is CEO of Xpenditure

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