Addressing Expense Fraud: A Vital Concern for Businesses Amidst Economic Strain in the UK

The ongoing economic challenges in the UK have significantly impacted families nationwide, forcing individuals and businesses to cope with rising bills and soaring interest rates. Amid this financial uncertainty, there has been a noticeable increase in expense fraud, which poses serious implications for businesses across the country.

A survey conducted by Emburse, involving over 1,000 workers and facilitated by YouGov, highlights the prevalence of expense fraud. The findings reveal that nearly a quarter (24%) of employees admit to making personal purchases and passing them off as business expenses due to their financial circumstances.

Expense fraud, the falsification of expenses by employees to obtain additional reimbursement from their companies, has become increasingly prevalent amidst the cost of living crisis.

A report by Cifas, a leading fraud prevention service, indicates a significant increase in various types of fraud, including expense fraud, as the economic challenges intensify. In the first nine months of 2022 alone, there was a 17% rise in cases recorded in the National Fraud Database compared to the previous year. This surge is driven by individuals altering bank statements and faking documents to secure financial benefits, including fraudulent expense claims. This alarming trend underscores the importance of understanding, identifying, and preventing expense fraud within organisations.

Amidst the complexities of expense fraud, businesses are urged to recognise its multifaceted nature and take proactive steps to mitigate risk and protect their financial interests. Understanding the dynamics of expense fraud is paramount, as it encompasses various deceptive practices, including:

  • Inflating costs and exaggerating business-related expenditures.
  • Submitting fake receipts or duplicating expense claims.
  • Mischaracterising personal expenses as legitimate business costs.

The repercussions of expense fraud extend beyond financial losses, encompassing legal liabilities and reputational damage. In an era defined by heightened scrutiny and accountability, businesses must prioritise robust strategies and solutions to combat this pervasive threat.

Expense fraud is a prominent issue within the realm of employee misconduct, constituting a significant portion of fraudulent activities. It is reported by ACFE that approximately 5% of global revenues are lost to fraud, with expense fraud alone contributing to 14.5% of detected cases. With the projected growth of the travel and expense management sector expected to reach $15.2 billion by 2032 (Fortune Business Insights), businesses are increasingly vulnerable to such fraudulent practices.

The rise of hybrid work models, with only 30% of UK companies currently operating fully on-site compared to 57% pre-pandemic (Travel Perk), underscores the need for organisations to address fraud prevention measures. Furthermore, the dynamic nature of employee spending in the post-hybrid work environment adds complexity and necessary robust controls across all expenditure categories. Remote work environments offer the ideal ground for fraudulent behaviour, emphasising the importance of proactive measures to safeguard against deceitful activities.

Graham Smith, Managing Director, Volopa commented “In the hybrid work era, combating expense fraud requires a robust strategy combining technology and corporate culture. Implementing, easy to use, but sophisticated expense management systems can help monitor inconsistencies and patterns indicative of fraud, maintaining oversight even in remote work environments. Simultaneously, fostering a culture of transparency and accountability is essential. Businesses should clearly communicate expense policies and offer regular training to emphasise the ethical standards expected. Moreover, providing anonymous reporting channels can empower employees to report suspicious activities safely, fostering a proactive approach to fraud prevention. This dual strategy not only secures financial assets but also upholds the integrity and reputation of the organisation amidst economic challenges”.