For Farmers Weekly
I’ve got myself embroiled in a scandal over expenses claims. I’m a trustee for three registered charities in the UK, so I know I’m quite within my rights to claim for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses.
However, I must confess, it was scandalous how much I claimed over the past few years!This is not on the same scale as the Westminster MP’s expenses row.
I haven’t been claiming for Her Outdoors to drive me to trustee meetings in a Rolls Royce or overnight stays in five-star hotels. In fact, I’ve scrimped and saved on expense over the years. Honest, I have.
On many occasions I got out of bed at 3am and drove for seven hours to attend a six-hour meeting and then drove straight back home again after the meeting was finished.
This saved me the expense of an overnight stay.However, it also meant that due to exhaustion, I’ve slept in most of the lay-byes along the length of the A75 from Gretna to Stranraer on my way back home.
In the greater scheme of things my claims didn’t amount to a huge amount of money. We’re not talking about several thousands of pounds a year, but I have to confess that nearly a thousand pounds a year was wrongly disappearing from a bank account.
Her Outdoors is adamant there was nothing wrong with me claiming the money. The possibility of her being treated to a new pair of foot shears, or some other indulgence, may have been swaying her thinking.But my children thought there was nothing wrong with what I had done, once I sat them down and explained to them why I had done it.
Eventually, it all got very messy. The high-heid-yins from the charity were not happy at all about what was going on. You see, there were others who were also at it.
Before you phone the fraud squad, I should explain that the scandal was that I (and some others too) felt we couldn’t make any claims to recoup our reasonable expenses from the charity.
I desperately wanted to (my bank manager will cheerfully testify that I needed to) but I didn’t make any claims because my conscience wouldn’t let me.
This particular charity has the most unfair expenses policy I have ever come across in thirty years of being involved with charities.
Instead of paying trustees’ expenses from their central funds, which would spread the cost equally between all the members of the charity, it is a rule that claims for travelling expenses must be settled out of the funds that are raised by volunteers in the area where a trustee lives.
It’s a postcode lottery where, if you’re chosen, everyone living in your area will lose.
Every time I leave home from the far-flung backwaters of darkest Wigtownshire to attend a meeting that is being held seven hours away, I felt guilty.
This is because I knew that I would be draining the funds of a small group of dedicated volunteers and friends who work tirelessly to raise money to support the work of the charity they love in their own locality.
Conversely, the volunteers and the trustees who live near to the charity’s regular meeting place have no such burden placed upon them.
The real downside to all this is that people will not come forward to give their time and their talents freely to help a really great cause if they are put in a position where they feel guilty about claiming their travelling expenses.
It would be a great shame if any of our fantastic rural charities are being held back by similar unfair expenses policies.