An internal investigation has been launched by UK officials after thousands of pounds were spent on luxury chocolate using a government-funded agency credit card a few days before Christmas.
A corporate credit card was used by someone within the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) at Hotel Chocolat on 21 December, who spent £6,248.40 in a single transaction.
The ICO is primarily funded by organisations paying the data protection fee, which accounts for about 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the body’s annual budget. For the 2019 to 2020 tax year, the ICO received £4.6 million in funding from the Government.
£6,248.40 spent at Hotel Chocolat
The purchase was included in a list of the ICO’s corporate charge card payments in excess of £500 for December.
Other charges on the list included £622.40 on Adobe Creative Cloud, a combined amount of £1,380 on IT careers specialist TechnoJobs and £517.87 on Amazon Marketplace.
The £6,248.40 at Hotel Chocolat stands out as the largest payment by far on the list, and is the single biggest transaction made on an ICO corporate credit card in the last 10 months.
While it is not known exactly what the money was spent on, according to the Hotel Chocolat website, the most expensive item available is the Signature Cabinet selection, which is a three-tiered box of 147 pieces of chocolate. The Signature Cabinet costs £170, which means that the person behind the spending would have had to buy 36 of these boxes to reach a total figure of more than £6,000.
‘Payment currently subject to investigation’
The ICO began a probe into the charge after it was made aware of the spend by Business Insider, which first spotted the transaction.
An ICO spokesperson said: “This payment is currently subject to an internal investigation.
“We believe that the transaction has been made contrary to ICO policies. The ICO is committed to upholding high standards in all aspects of our financial management and controls.
“Should a contravention of our finance policies be confirmed, we will take appropriate action, including ensuring the payment is reimbursed.”
John Slater, an FOI campaigner, told Business Insider: “My experience of the ICO is that the case officers are great. They have ridiculous workplaces and get far more right than they get wrong.
“The management team, on the other hand, I’m not impressed with. I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that someone who had access to the credit card did this, or that they thought it was okay.”
John Baines, chair of the National Association of Data Protection Officers, told Business Insider: “On the face of it, it looks extraordinary that someone at the ICO made a £6,000 card payment to Hotel Chocolat.
“Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, the fact the ICO published this information under public sector transparency measures shows both the benefit of those measures, and the benefit of someone taking the time to review the information.”