DEAR VEXED: The expenses scandal has got me a little ruffled. Not just because of how MPs have been using taxpayers’ money. Mainly, actually, because I’ve been taking a few liberties with my own expenses – money’s tight and all. Now I’m scared of getting called on it and losing my job, to say the least. I also feel guilty. What should I do? Confess or keep going and hope for the best? Bill, 33, banker
I suspect a lot of people are feeling the same way. Expenses seem to carry with them a big, beckoning finger that says: “Come and exploit me. Nobody will find out. Plus you work so hard.”
I’d like to be able to tell you that it’s totally understandable, everyone does it, it’s not your fault. But I can’t. Basically, you’ve told yourself that it’s okay to be dishonest and cheat the system, essentially to steal money, because in your immediate line of vision nobody will get hurt and you want more things than you can really afford.
But as the MPs’ expenses show, most people have a rather negative attitude to this sort of thing. If you have been bending the rules, then you can no longer pretend that you think it’s acceptable.
For years, the City has taken a much more stringent attitude towards expenses and if you have been doing this for a while, you have been flirting with danger. Unlike MPs, those in the City know that the money they are spending is not theirs, and is not a perk. Getting sprung means that you will lose your job. But you must know that.
I suspect that fiddling your expenses is a kind of risk-taking and that the thrill of being caught is part of the reason you do it. If you have decided that it’s time to come clean, then good for you, but you should probably have a good hard look at yourself and what drives you to this sort of behaviour. Are you a risk-taker in other areas of your life? I suspect so.
Unless you want to commit career suicide, then carrying on is not possible. In fact, your situation is pretty dire. The only option is to go to your boss and admit what you have been doing. If not, then you will always have the terrible fear hanging over you that somebody will find out about your fiddling past, and you will get the boot anyway. It’s time for sackcloth, ashes and grovelling.