University of Ulster: Senior Officers' Expenses

In 1995, the University of Ulster introduced a corporate credit card scheme for the payment of business expenses incurred by senior officers on trips abroad. An audit by the NIAO in 1996 of business expenses in the University identified inadequate control over the operation of the scheme. The NIAO conducted a follow up audit of senior officers' expenses in 1998 and the main findings are as follows:

Despite assurances given by the University after the 1996 audit that expenditure incurred by credit card would be subject to the same level of controls applied in other areas of expenditure, a number of shortcomings were again identified. These included:

inadequate documentation and authorisations to support payments;

duplicate claims and payments; and

unauthorised use of the card for purposes such as the purchase of computer equipment and expenditure on meals at local restaurants and petrol for hired cars used for travelling between the University's campuses.

Overall the corporate credit card scheme was being operated with a surprising degree of laxity, both by users and by the University administration. However, the NIAO welcomes the positive and constructive response by the University. This has resulted in revised guidance on the operation of the corporate credit card scheme, reinforcing existing procedures and significantly tightening control.

There was no guidance on:

the class of travel which staff were entitled to when on University business;

the level of subsistence rates payable to staff on business trips outside the UK; and

the acceptance/disclosure of gifts and hospitality provided to University staff.

The University undertook to review the need for guidance on standards of travel and accommodation for staff and on the disclosure of gifts and hospitality received.

There was a lack of transparency in the procedures for recouping cash incurred by University staff on trips associated with other bodies. The University has since issued guidance on the procedures to be followed by staff who are working on behalf of or with other bodies to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place for the recovery of costs.