Opinion

SMEs haven't learnt from the MPs' expenses scandal

3 min read

18 June 2014

Five years has already flown by since the MP expenses scandal was first revealed by The Daily Telegraph.

Since then, several MPs have continued to suffer public embarrassment, and worse unemployment, after a dodgy expense claim has made its way into the merciless British press. 

It is clear that Westminster is failing to make changes; but what about UK business? A recent YouGov study commissioned by Concur revealed that companies are also in danger of making the same mistakes. Despite seeing first-hand and very publicly exactly what happens when there is a lack of education and transparency around the expenses process, too many businesses are leaving themselves open to the risk of having their own scandal.

The study showed that despite over two thirds of Brits still feeling ‘angry’ (68 per cent) and ‘appalled’ (67 per cent) about the expenses scandal; large portions of the British workforce haven’t tightened up how they submit their own expenses. For the majority (53 per cent) of UK employees the scandal has made ‘no difference’ to how carefully their company scrutinises their expenses, with only one in ten admitting to being more vigilant when submitting their expenses.

A further fifth stated they felt it would be ‘easy’ to use the expenses system to ‘claim money for their own benefit’. This was precisely the exact same attitude which caused the Westminster scandal in the first place and for small to mid-sized businesses, it should serve as a serious wake-up call.

Another big issue facing SME employers appears to be a lack of understanding of the whole process amongst their staff; with 29 per cent of employees saying they didn’t quite grasp their company’s expenses policy.

Organisations are ultimately responsible for the behavior of their employees and must ensure that behaviour meets acceptable standards. Whether it’s deliberate fraud or a lack of education about the process, expenses shouldn’t be left to chance. Otherwise employees might make overstated or unrealistic claims based on ‘unwritten rules’ which are left open to individual interpretation. The rules must be clearly set out, in a black and white policy and regularly shared with every employee in the company. Failure to take control can lead companies down a path that could be costly or, even worse, cause serious reputational damage.

Whilst the issues surrounding MPs expenses still remain, UK employees and their companies can take the first steps towards tightening up their expenses process and avoid the same embarrassing mistakes that occurred five years ago with MPs.

David Vine is Managing Director of UK SMB at Concur.

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