ICO rounds up the fee dodgers but expenses skyrocket

ico_exterior2The Information Commissioner’s Office has come good on its pledge to tackle data protection fee dodgers, with its end of year financial results revealing the regulator has exceeded its target by over £2m, raising a total of £48.7m from UK companies.

The move follows a concerted campaign to identify and then contact organisations and individuals that are legally obliged to pay the fees but who had not yet registered to do so. At one stage, the ICO said it would be contacting all registered companies in the UK, more than 4.2 million in total, to remind them of their legal responsibility to pay the fee.

In the last quarter of its financial year – January, February and March – the ICO made up considerable ground on collecting the fee, raking in £15.2m; £3.4m over budget for the three month period. In total, fee income was 24% higher than the previous year due to the overlap of payment regimes.

However, at one stage, the management accounts revealed there had been six consecutive months when the fee payments were in deficit. August saw the worst performance, coming in at £507,000 under budget; at the time the regulator was running £1.3m behind budget for the year.

Even so, the success in data protection fee collection is tempered by huge rises in travel expenses and legal costs.

The figures reveal that travel costs were £922,000 against a budget of £687,000, an overspend of £234,000, although there have been more than a few eyebrows raised by claims that senior ICO staff regularly travel first class and use taxis.

The ICO travel subsistence policy states that: “You are expected to travel in standard class for all rail journeys, irrespective of your grade, distance travelled or time you are expected to be away.”

According to expenses claims posted on the ICO site, Commissioner Elizabeth Denham stays at the Royal Overseas League accommodation when in London. The club, based in St James, charges over £200 a night.

Senior staff also regularly entertain “guests” at the CIBO Italian restaurant near its head office in Wilmslow, Cheshire. For instance, on July 27 last year, ICO executive director of technology and innovation Simon McDougall claimed for a meal worth £405.35.

The expenses also include a costly trip to Japan in June 2019 by Denham and deputy commissioner of operations James Dipple-Johnstone. Their combined hotel bill alone came in at over £5,000.

Meanwhile, the ICO’s legal bill came in at £2,344,000 against a budget of £1,978,000 making it £366,000 over budget. This is likely to include the scores of appeals against ICO rulings, as well as the legal wranglings over proposed GDPR fines against British Airways and Marriott International which were recently delayed for the third time.

The regulator said: “The travel and legal budgets both faced considerable pressure and the year-end position for each has been an overspend against each area. Both of these are a reflection of the increase in demands on the organisation.”

However, there are other operations which have gone over budget, too, including extra office costs of £734,000, staff costs of +£294,000, training and recruitment +£55,000, something called “project spend” +£461,000, financial costs +£49,000 and capital spend +£11,000.

The ICO’s annual report is due to be published next month.

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