There’s nothing the media loves more than a juicy expenses scandal and the higher the amounts being claimed, the more outrage it’s liable to provoke.
But there’s another popular type of expenses story which is harder to fathom – it’s the outrage induced by people claiming really small amounts.
What’s unusual is that there’s usually no suggestion that these claims are anything but legitimate business expenses.
What they do, however, is try to portray them as being morally wrong when judged against the individual’s high salary.
From a finance team’s perspective it seems odd – a valid expense is a valid expense. And technology such as the webexpenses smarthphone app has made it easier for employees to make legitimate claims for small amounts.
But for the media these claims have been a regular source for headline grabbing expenses stories. Here are a few recent examples:
Home Secretary’s Bath Plug Claim
During the height of the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2008 the media struggled to keep up with stories of duck islands and moat cleaning services being claimed.
But some of the smaller claims were equally liable to capture the publics’ attention like the 88p claim the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made for a bath plug.
It was part of a £150,304 claim she made for a property in Redditch which she had classified as a second home. It was a claim which also included fees for pornographic films and a kitchen sink.
BBC Boss Claims for 25p Call
The BBC’s director of global news, Peter Horrocks, found himself making the news in March 2013. As a senior BBC executive, his expenses claims are all made public and the media picked up on a 25p claim for a telephone call.
It was a work related call made while the executive, on a salary of £240,000, was attending a media summit in Thailand. The low amount was thanks to him using the Skype service to keep the costs to a minimum – if he had not bothered, he may have escaped the wrath of the media.
Transport Secretary Claims 10p Bus Fare
This was a headline which greeted MP Justine Greening in May, 2012. As with many of these stories, it wasn’t quite what it seemed.
It related to a series of expense claims she had made on behalf of an intern who had been working for her while she was Economic Secretary to the Treasury.
The tiny amount was not for a bus fare but because the amount paid by the intern had exceeded a £4 cap on bus fare claims by 10p.
Jeremy Hunt’s One Penny Claim
When it comes to outrageously small claims, the prize goes to Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt. The current Secretary of State managed to come through the 2008 expenses scandal relatively unscathed apart from this one claim.
The only details we know are that it was for a 12 second telephone call and that he estimated the cost to be exactly 1p. The claim was approved by the expenses committee.
These kinds of stories send out a strange message to figures in public life. They tend to punish thriftiness and encourage people to claim for amounts which won’t catch the media’s eye.
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