News that an MP put in an expenses claim of 40p for riding his bike has angered some, but all it provoked from me was an eye-roll and a giggle. Life’s too short to claim back a sum that wouldn’t even buy a Mars bar…
On the tube into work this morning, I spotted a headline on the front page of someone else’s newspaper. I tried not to stare, but I was transfixed, wondering if I was dreaming.
But no – Labour backbencher Hugh Bayley MP really did put in an expenses claim of just 40p, for a three-kilometre bicycle journey he made last September.
Under Parliamentary expenses rules, MPs are allowed to claim 20p per mile when they ride their bicycles. This is for maintenance of the bikes as well as the extra food they may have to eat as they burn up calories!
Leaving aside the political debate around MPs expenses – which is an issue far too big for this post – I must say I’m staggered that anyone, wherever they work, would bother to put in an expenses claim for such a small sum.
When is it worth claiming expenses?
Maybe I’m lazy, but I wouldn’t even contemplate trying to reclaim 40p. The time it would take me to trawl through numerous online screens, putting codes in boxes at every stage, is worth more to me than 40p – you couldn’t even buy a Mars bar with that!
An entirely unscientific bit of research into my friends’ and colleagues’ expenses habits has revealed I’m not alone. Which? Conversation’s Hannah Jolliffe claims to have ‘a drawer full’ of receipts that she should put through expenses.
Another friend of mine (who works elsewhere) has a ‘£5 minimum’ expenses rule; he doesn’t make claims for sums smaller than this, he reckons, unless his boss has really ticked him off.
Claiming what’s rightfully ours
On the other hand, Al Warman of the Which? Technology team is slightly more organised – and is happy to stand up and claim what’s rightfully his, even when it’s a little inconvenient.
He’s a big fan of reclaiming tube and train fares for delayed journeys via nifty websites such as MyTubeWasLate.com. And to be honest, even though he only gets back about £2 at a time through the site, I don’t blame him. When you’re paying over £1,000 a year to get into work on public transport, regularly being held up on over-crowded trains just isn’t good enough.
And what about other sorts of reclaiming? What if you’ve been put in the wrong council tax band, are owed money by your energy supplier, or have been mis-sold a financial product such as payment protection insurance?
Reclaiming money you’re owed after mistakes like these could see you win back hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of pounds.
Is it about the money?
I suppose that’s where my laziness meets my principles – as well as my propensity to feel rage at large companies and institutions.
If I’d been mis-sold something, or felt I was being badly treated by a company I was paying good money to, you can bet I’d be demanding some cash back in recompense – no matter what sum I was owed.
When it comes to expenses, I might not bother asking my employer to give me back anything less than about £5. I know that looking after the pennies means the pounds look after themselves, but life really is too short to claw back the cost of every cappuccino I drink during a project meeting.
But my bank, credit card company, phone provider or insurer? They’d better watch their step. Any funny business and I’ll be on their case, refusing to back down until I’ve been paid what I’m owed. Even if it is a mere 40p.
How many expenses do you claim?
All of them, regardless of the amount (40%, 92 Votes)
I claim anything over a few pounds but not smaller sums (36%, 83 Votes)
I don't claim any expenses (24%, 54 Votes)
Total Voters: 229