legal

Manager paid herself £1,450 for office tea and coffee


A long-serving office manager who helped herself to firm money for expenses such as tea and coffee has been barred from the profession.

Jacqueline Tunstall had worked for Sunderland firm McKenzie Bell for more than 30 years. She was found to have made seven pre-signed office cheques payable to her personal bank account. The cheques, over four months to January 2023, came to a total of £1,450.

In a settlement agreement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Tunstall said that she made the cheques payable to herself as a refund for office expenses, such as tea, coffee, milk and sugar, which she had incurred personally.

She did not retain receipts for these expenses and did not inform the directors that she was reimbursing herself.

The firm said it was not expected for employees to incur office expenses personally and the usual process was for them to provide a receipt to Tunstall for the relevant item.

It was also common practice at the Sunderland office for employees to bring in their own refreshments. Even if this was not the case, the SRA said, the size of the office would not warrant such high spending. In the firm’s other office in Washington, petty cash was used to purchase small items – with the record of such withdrawals sent to Tunstall.

coffee

The SRA said Tunstall was aware that she was not following usual procedure and that she had written the cheques when this was not allowed. She claimed that directors were not available to arrange for payment directly from the office account, although she was unable to produce any receipts to support her claims.

The regulator said Tunstall worked with minimal supervision due to her trusted status, but that she had used this position and control over the firm’s accounts to create a financial benefit for herself.

‘Given her lengthy experience working in the accounts department at a law firm, should Ms Tunstall obtain employment in the future there is a high chance it will be in a role of the same nature,’ said the SRA. ‘Based on her conduct, Ms Tunstall has demonstrated that she is not a trustworthy individual to hold such a role.’

Tunstall agreed to a section 43 notice preventing her from working for any regulated firm without securing SRA permission. She also agreed to pay £300 costs.



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