A Chablis with red meat!? My favourite ridiculous expense claims…
Over the years, I’ve processed, authorised and paid thousands of expense claims but there are some that just stick in the memory just because of their sheer audacity!
Here are a few that still make me smile to this day.
The Taxi ride
I was working as FD for a services firm when I came across a claim for a taxi ride for a member of staff.
Unfortunately, the finance and management team was light so I was in charge of checking, authorising and paying the claims. Not ideal from a separation of duties point of view!
The lady in question didn’t usually claim for taxi rides and, given that she was office-based, I couldn’t see why she would suddenly need to. So I called her…
The first question was why she’d claimed;
“Because I crashed my car.” she said.
“But it’s not a company car?” I asked
She confirmed it wasn’t and explained that it was her own car that she’d crashed one morning.
“Were you on your way into work?” I asked.
“No it was my day off” she confirmed.
“So it was your car, you weren’t on company business and you weren’t coming in to work. You know we can’t pay this, right?”
Indignantly she told me that she thought I was a heartless bureaucrat who should be more empathetic towards staff.
I thought that explaining tax law may not have gone down too well so we agreed to disagree and I didn’t pay the claim.
I made an enemy though as every time she saw me around the office she looked daggers at me!
The £48 bottle of wine
When I was in charge of finance at a different company one of my staff raised an issue on one of the expenses claims he was processing.
The member of staff involved had gone for dinner when working away and had bought a bottle of wine for £48 one evening. Just for himself, I might add.
I was fairly new to the company so I thought I’d raise it quietly with his line manager, the sales director. There was no specific policy against ordering alcohol with a meal but I thought that £48 was a little excessive.
The sales director was difficult to track down but eventually, I managed to collar him.
I showed him the receipt. “I don’t like to tell tales but could you have a word with Jim about the bottle of wine he bought with his meal?”.
The sales director looked at the claim and told me it wasn’t on and he’d definitely be raising it with the chap involved.
“Outrageous” he said. “A Chablis with red meat? Awful. It’s not even a good year”.
There wasn’t a lot I could say to that.
The missing mobile phones
A service company I worked with had people out in the field who needed to be in contact at all times.
We issued them with iPhones and the understanding was that if they needed any accessories like hands-free kits they could expense them.
One month I got an expense claim from a lady that included a brand new iPhone.
It turned out she’d left her previous handset on the top of her car and driven away.
An expensive mistake but one that I suspect many people have made. (I did with my first ever mobile!).
The next month another claim came in from the same lady, this time for another mobile.
I called to see if she’d mistakenly claimed twice.
Nope. This was a replacement for the replacement.
“I did it again” she said airily.
The company was fairly small and owned and managed by one person so I went to have a chat.
The owner told me to forget it and pay any claims that came in like this as they had to remain in contact with staff.
He told me that I really shouldn’t worry about people making simple mistakes like this.
The next month a claim came in from the same lady…
This time she’d driven off with her laptop on the top of the car!
The hospitable salesman
As FD of a successful fintech I had the ultimate responsibility to sign off expenses claims but generally wasn’t too worried because I knew that the company had an excellent culture and no-one was taking advantage until one day the sales director called me aside after a board meeting.
He was newly appointed but I already knew him and knew that he was a good guy and very conscientious about signing off claims.
It turned out he had a problem with one of his chaps who had been authorised to take an introducer and their management team out for a meal.
The guy concerned was also pretty new to the company and wanted to make a good impression with the introducers he had just inherited.
He’d turned up at the restaurant expecting to see the owner of the business and four or five of his managers however what he actually found was the managers, supervisors and their partners - 20 people in all!
He hadn’t made it clear that the invitation was really only for the top team but didn’t feel that he could back out in front of the boss he was trying to impress so had to go through with it. The final bill was an eyewatering amount to be sure.
Needless to say, he’d had a couple of sleepless nights before he finally plucked up the courage to speak to his brand new line manager, the sales director.
I promised to speak with the MD and luckily he thought it was incredibly funny although it did get a little mention in his speech at the Christmas do!
The moral of the story
I think that you can see, even in the best-run companies, you have to keep an eye on what people are claiming.
Even if you want to let people get away with things it would be difficult to argue that some of my examples would be compliant with PAYE or VAT law.
It’s always important to make sure you have a good, and well communicated Expense Policy (See our Expense Policy Toolkit for a free health check on yours!) but from my years of processing expenses claims my primary advice would be to always keep your sense of humour because you never know what is going to happen next.