/ Money

When is it worth claiming expenses?

Woman holding receipts and using calculator

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

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Sophie Gilbert says:
7 February 2011

When is it worth claiming expenses? Certainly not when you’re an MP and the administrative cost of claiming and then being reimbursed is greater than the expense incurred. This guy can’t be in it for the love of politics or for the good of the people and the country.

I’ve always claimed for everything I spent when on a trip – even if it was one penny. Provided it was allowed. For my firm – everything was allowed on expenses from a book of matches upwards – provided it was itemised and with a receipt.

I go on the trip for the benefit of the company not myself. The administrative cost is not my concern – but there is no way that I would give my hard earned money back to the company.

Fat Sam, Glos says:
9 February 2011

I absolutely agree, when away on business for your company you personally should not be left out of pocket. It’s not about the amount – it’s about the principle. For example, tea and coffee is free at my place of work. If I am sent out of the office I will claim for purchasing a coffee. I might even claim sustenance, why not. My justification is that I put in enough unpaid hours, so **** with it, why not?! But it has to be reasonable and that’s why we have maximum limits or an allowance.

Recently, we were told that even to drive to the station required us to have business insurance. For some of my colleagues this meant they had to pay slightly more in premiums. I then argued that if we have to have business insurance we should be able to claim the mileage back from home to station as technically, this is for business. So now I will even claim for a journey of 4 miles – each way because this was some recompense for having to deal with a jobsworth, control freak of an admin person.

I don’t begrudge MPs re-claiming expenses they incur as a result of doing certain aspects of their job. However, I do begrudge anything that is not related to them performing their duties as an MP. Hence the outrage at the duck islands and so on.

However, some people got really narked at MPs claiming anything at all. Clearly, these are people who work in jobs where they have never had the tedious experience of claiming expenses.

Sophie Gilbert says:
9 February 2011

I guess it’s because I work for a charity that my outlook is different. If I am sent away somewhere overnight I will claim for the evening meal and B&B expense, however tedious. If I spend money for a cuppa or a bus ticket, however, I won’t claim my expense and will treat it instead like a donation to my employer. They give us free tea, coffe and milk in the office. I call that give and take.

Many years ago I submitted an expenses claim to my manager…

About an hour later he called me into his office. This was always a worry because, nice bloke though he was, he was a real jobsworth when it came to money. The reason (confirmed after much diary searching) was that I had claimed 39 pence LESS than I was entitled to.

After some effort I convinced him that I was happy to lose 39 pence to save completing a replacement form. Incidentally, his response when I tongue-in-cheek suggested I would add 39p to my next claim is unrepeatable!

But my real answer to your question above is: “usually I claim every last penny I am entitled to, but if the total claim is less than a few pounds it isn’t worth the trouble”

laurie says:
9 February 2011

Used to be very casual about self employed expenses in the 80’s, then had a run in over a couple of minor errors in vat resulting in small penalties for miscalculation as was not on a computer.When I pointed out an error in their favour they had not spotted that was my tough luck.Also had problems with an ex tax inspector who turned accountant and did not let every legitamate expenses through.Got a computer in 1988,learnt about tax allowances,did my own tax and vat,saved a fortune in fees and just used an accountant as fail safe from then on-well worth it,claimed every penny -legally +correctly,because when an accountant gets it wrong you bill his bill and still have to pay the errors/fines/surcharges.If you are owed it-claim it!

The cycle allowance is nothing to do with extra calories nor cover commuting from home to office. It is purely to cover mechanical wear and tear. The HMRC website has fulll details of travel allowances for business travel by all transport modes. Cycling is the least expensive one. A very sensible choice for quickly getting round a City like York.

Don’t judge a person on one action – especially if you’re going to take it upon yourself to publicly name and shame them! “Many a mickle maks a muckle” – small individual costs can mount up to a significant sum if incurred frequently. Focus on the positive! He’s saving not only time, but also the public purse by only claiming for cycling, as well as reducing his potential carbon footprint – or would you prefer him to take a taxi or the tube and claim for those? If he’s as assiduous with public money as with his own, then we should be glad to have him in the position he is. You may be missing the other point that, unless cycling journeys are somehow individually accounted for, there is no way of knowing how ‘green’ our MPs are being, or the carbon footprint they are reducing by cycling, and the consequent benefit to city dweller’s lungs. Don’t judge everything by its monetary price – there are often far greater (hidden) benefits that accounting for small items can highlight. You only demean yourself when you denegrate others on trivia. Look for the beam in your own eye, before you try to take the speck out of somebody else’s!

Sophie Gilbert says:
10 February 2011

Comparing the MP’s standards to mine is precisely what I did and his annual salary is three times greater than mine. Moreover, by claiming expenses he himself applies monetary terms to his environmentally friendly actions.

If you saw a pound coin on a bench would you pick it up and keep it or would you hand it in? Or would you leave it?

I suspect most would take it regardless of what they would do with it. By claiming expenses it means I’m receiving recompense for something I’ve paid for out of my own pocket – I’m not gaining anything. By claiming it means I can continue to use my money as I please – which also includes contributing to charity.

Losjkie says:
21 February 2011

He should claim every penny he is entitled too and not a penny more. Claims should be made on a monthly basis so the admin costs sre kept low. I am guessing the reporters who wrote about these claims failed to tell us that they were a small part of a monthly claim instead implying that one claim was made for a small amount and that amount only.
Do we really know all the facts??

Steve in Essex says:
7 July 2011

“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!”

Could I sell your employer some new expense management software? Properly designed.
Or is it like that so that you will continue to fund their business?

Seriously, all my working life, every penny I have ever spent for an employer, I have claimed back. Why should I finance their business?

And as far as the cycle allowance goes, it is available to everybody when travelling for business. If your employer doesn’t pay it, you can reclaim money on your tax return.