- EXCLUSIVE: The UK Information Commissioner’s office is investigating itself after Insider finds it spent more than £ 6,000 ($ 8,220) on luxury chocolates over the holiday season.
- “We believe the transaction violated ICO guidelines,” a government official told Insider.
- The money was spent at Hotel Chocolat, a luxury brand chocolatier.
- You can find more stories in the Insider business section.
British officials have launched an internal investigation after thousands of pounds were spent buying high-priced chocolate on a government credit card a few days before Christmas.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) began investigating a possible breach of its fiscal policy after Insider announced that £ 6,248.40 was spent on a corporate credit card in a single day at Hotel Chocolat, a chocolatier of the luxury brand.
The December 21st transaction is included in the ICO’s corporate fee payments of over £ 500 for the 2020-21 tax year. The chocolate purchase is the largest transaction made with an ICO corporate credit card in the last 10 months.
Most of the other amounts withdrawn from the ICO’s corporate credit card are related to advertisements, job postings and web design. The ICO is the government agency that regulates data use, privacy issues and the Freedom of Information Act.
When asked by Insider what the agency bought for its money in the chocolate business, an ICO spokesman said, “This payment is currently subject to internal investigation.”
They added, “We believe the transaction has violated ICO policies. The ICO is committed to maintaining high standards in all aspects of our financial management and controls. Should a violation of our financial policies be confirmed, we will take appropriate action . ” including ensuring that payment is refunded. “
FOI experts were unimpressed
“My experience with the ICO is that the case workers are great,” said John Slater, a FOI activist. “They have ridiculous workloads and do far more right than wrong.
“I’m not impressed by the management team,” added Slater. “I don’t know which is worse: the fact that someone who had access to the credit card did it or that they thought it was okay.”
The most expensive chocolate available on Hotel Chocolat’s website is a 147-piece collection of solid and filled chocolates and biscuits called The Signature Cabinet. At £ 170, the allegedly freely issued ICO employee being investigated could have bought 36 Signature Cabinets.
The ICO is funded by a combination of private organizations that pay a “data protection fee,” similar to a tax on all companies that process personal data, and grants from public funds. In the 2019-20 tax year, the ICO received £ 4.6m in funding from the UK government – around 10% of the total funding it receives.
Jon Baines, chairman of the National Association of Data Protection Officers, told Insider: “At first glance, it looks extraordinary that someone from the ICO made a card payment of £ 6,000 to Hotel Chocolat.
“Regardless of the rights and wrongs, the fact that the ICO published this information as part of public sector transparency measures demonstrates both the benefits of those measures and the benefits of taking the time to review the information.”
The organization was recently criticized for having its Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, one of the most senior civil servants in the country, worked from her home in Canada for a few months in 2020 after a car accident involving her eighty-year-old mother.
An ICO spokesman at the time told reporters that Denham “fulfills all aspects of her role” despite working in a time zone eight hours behind the UK and its staff.