Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I was about 20 years old and had worked at Eagle Star Insurance for a couple of years. I worked in the Claims Department, a place that pioneered the expression 'just say no' long before the anti-drugs campaigners dug it up. Our other motto, 'When the boss comes round try not to look busy.'

The first time I ventured out on behalf of the company, missing a meal time, I was told I could claim for my mileage and lunch. I put in a claim for a sandwich and half a tank of petrol. I would have had difficulty spending the full mileage rate on my little green 850 Mini without doubling its value.

So my claim went in and, on being asked to sign the cheque requisition, one of my colleagues complained. The basis was that if I claimed less than the full amount (even though I hadn't spent it) the company would tell everyone else they could manage on less. So rather than two receipts they wanted me to claim 150 miles at the going rate and the full meal out allowance. If I had stayed in the office I would have had a nice, free lunch.

I refused. The Staff Association rep took me into a small interview room and invited me to consider whether or not I wanted a reputation as a trouble-maker. This would have been in the highly unionised and politicised working environment of 1975 Birmingham. I backed down. 20 years old and I wasn't so stubborn in those days. Actually I probably was but pragmatically didn't want to lose all my friends in one fell swoop.

Sometimes you don't notice that your organisation has adopted closed-shop practices that will be obviously ridiculous to the outside-world. Within two years the free lunches stopped, only company cars could be used for outside journeys and all expenses claims had to be supported by receipts. If you play the system remember the system is the banker and the odds are stacked in its favour.

1 comment:

Gill said...

I remember having exactly the same problem in the Civil Service, would have been 1976. Went on a training course to London from Manchester, put in my expenses when I got back and had them returned because I had not claimed enough!

Another colleague went on the same course, claimed all his expenses and stayed with his Aunty!

Nothing changes then! Just bigger amounts!