Workers cash in on council expenses

Council HQ in Motherwell
Council HQ in Motherwell

NORTH Lanarkshire Council has been warned to tighten up its staff expenses system amid fears that many employees are claiming cash they aren’t entitled to.

Staff are getting mileage despite failing to make it clear where they have been.

It’s estimated that one council employee raked in £1,450 more than the official rtae for a journey being made regularly.

The concerns have been raised after an internal audit based on a sample of 50 claims.

In a report prepared for councillors the auditors warn repeatedly that the council could be ‘inappropriately reimbursing staff for mileage which has not actually been incurred legitimately in the course of council business’.

The report states: “No significant weaknesses have been identified, but a number of issues require prompt management attention.

“In particular there is a need for improvement in the content and quality of information recorded by claimants to ensure claim forms are consistently and acceptably completed.

“There is also a need to ensure all relevant documentation requesting payments is authorised properly by relevant staff.”

The sample centred on staff with ‘high’ travel and subsistence claims.

In more than 80 per cent of journeys reviewed the mileage claimed didn’t match the actual length of the trip.

The report highlghts the case of one employee and says: “Although the difference between the amount paid and the mileage calculated by internal audit was relatively minor, this was repeated over a prolonged period.

“It resulted in an estimated overpayment of around £1,450 over the four-year period for which the claim was made.”

Of the 50 claims, 37 ‘had no clear start point/destination and lacked precise information concerning where staff travelled to and why the journey was undertaken’.

In 24 claims it was not stated whether the journey started or ended at home, so there was no way of checking whether the ‘normal commute’ had been deducted from the claim.

The audit also found that changes made to a ‘significant’ number of claims were not initialled properly by the claimant or authorising officer.

And in a few cases the writing on the expenses form was ‘barely legible’.

Council management have agreed to inform staff about the need to complete expenses forms in line with issued guidance and to remind those who sign off forms that incomplete claims should be sent back to the claimant and not approved.