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2.1 billion paid out in staff expenses claims in 2009 were not within company policy

British companies failed to control employees' expenses costs during the recession.

In 2009 over £8.8 billion was paid out by UK organisations to reimburse their employees for expenses incurred - but around £2.1 billion of this should not have been paid as it was for fiddled and ‘out of policy', according to a report from GlobalExpense.

The research found 11% of all approved expense claims do not comply with company policy. This figure rises to approximately 20% of all hotel expense claims and 29% of entertainment claims.

The report drew on 7.7 million expense claims made by over 250,000 UK-based employees between December 2006 and November 2009.  It covers £427 million in payments to employees and it provides the definitive picture of what employees really claimed and received in expenses over the last three years.

Employers also failed to reduce the number and value of expense claims made by employees during the most severe recession for over 30 years, despite claims by 38% of employers in an Institute of Personnel and Development survey in 2009 that they had cut business travel expenditure, with 60% saying they had cut international trips, 69% that they had cut the expenses staff are allowed to claim, and 55% saying they had cut client entertaining.

According to the report, the average expense-claiming employee in the UK made 30 claims in 2009 (compared with 32 in 2008 and 30 in 2007 before the downturn) and the average expense claim in 2009 was for £55.50 (compared with £57.14 in 2008 and £55.34 in 2007).

David Vine, CEO of GlobalExpense, said: "Overall, businesses have cut their employee expense bill by around 9%, but this is almost entirely accounted for by the reduction in fuel prices dropping from a high in 2008.

"Businesses have either made little effort to tighten expenses policies since the start of the recession, or spectacularly failed to implement them."

Examples of unusual employee expense claims paid in 2009 include an inflatable sheep, pig organs, lap dancers and pink furry handcuffs (the latter claimed under ‘stationery'). The most expensive out-of-policy claims included a phone bill for over £88,000, the hire of a holiday villa at over £15,000 and a first-class plane ticket that cost £11,314.

Employees are also ensuring they get back every penny they pay out on company business with some making claims for as little as one penny - to pay for a credit card fee.