The Post Office Horizon scandal is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice we have ever seen in our country. Innocent postmasters who were simply doing their job used faulty Horizon software which showed continual shortfalls in their accounts and were then prosecuted for false accounting or theft - crimes they never committed. It is imperative all of those affected get the full and fair compensation they rightly deserve as quickly as possible.
The ITV drama ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’ has brought an understanding of the Horizon scandal to a much broader audience, but work has been ongoing on this long before it was broadcast. Personally, I was an MP on the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee in 2015 responsible for questioning Paula Vennells and officials from the Post Office on Horizon’s ineffectiveness and their awful treatment of the postmasters.
I know Ministers will continue their efforts until everyone has been compensated fairly, the truth is known and those responsible have been held to account. I will support any new measure that is brought forward to assist those postmasters who have faced such awful injustices at the hands of the Post Office.
Rebecca Harris MP (Jan 2024)
Are you supporting the Government’s Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill?
I am supporting this Bill. As you may already know, the Department for Business and Trade is administering the Group Litigation Order Compensation Scheme for the 555 postmasters who won the High Court case against the Post Office and exposed the Horizon scandal. I am pleased that Ministers are now introducing an upfront compensation payment of £75,000 for postmasters affected in this group. Full compensation payments made under the GLO scheme are paid under the sole authority of Appropriation Acts and therefore, under the current law, Parliament requires all such payments to be made within a two-year period. The first payment of compensation was made on 8 August 2022, meaning no payments can be made beyond 7 August 2024.
The Government is determined to make compensation to claimants as soon as possible and by the current deadline of August 2024. However, this is not entirely within the Government’s own gift, particularly for those with complex claims, thus potentially leaving some postmasters without full and fair compensation. In line with Sir Wyn Williams’ recommendation, the Government is now legislating through the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill to reassure them that everyone will get compensation, they will not be rushed or bounced into deciding on their claims and is removing this two-year deadline. The Department has also announced a commitment to make compensation offers to 90% of Group Litigation Order postmasters within 40 working days of getting fully completed applications.
How much compensation has been paid so far?
The Government has so far paid £153 million in compensation to over 2,700 claimants across the three Horizon schemes – Group Litigation Order (GLO), Horizon Shortfall Scheme and the Overturned Convictions Scheme. 93 postmasters have now had their convictions overturned and 30 of these have agreed to final compensation settlements. The Government is supporting the Post Office to make an upfront offer of £600,000 in full and final settlements to postmasters whose related conviction has been overturned. If a postmaster does not wish to accept the upfront offer, they can pursue their claim via the usual process with the Post Office and may be eligible for interim payments of up to £163,000.
What action is the Government taking?
Conservative MPs played a key role in securing justice. In 2012, James Arbuthnot MP (now Lord Arbuthnot) persuaded the Chair of the Post Office to commission Second Sight to conduct a review into problems with Horizon. Between 2014 and 2018, Conservative MPs led in debates in Parliament, while Ministers pressed the Post Office board on Horizon issues and established a policy team within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to oversee the matter.
In the ITV drama ‘Mr Bates v The Post Office’, there is also a scene featuring Nadhim Zahawi MP as a member of the Business Select Committee in 2015 questioning Paula Vennells and officials from the Post Office. I was also on the Committee that day and questioned them myself on the Post Office’s mediation scheme and the concerns at its ineffectiveness and treatment of these postmasters who were reporting issues with the Horizon system. I was pleased to see Paula Vennells do the right thing and hand her CBE back voluntarily. You can watch these exchanges here: www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/d05cb9e7-04d0-4d05-8a43-ddd74b1eecc0 or read the written transcripts of the evidence sessions here: committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/4526/pdf/
In March 2021, the Government established the Horizon Shortfall Scheme to compensate sub-postmasters not involved in the Group Litigation Order and the Government announced funding for a scheme which would ensure that Group Litigation Order members were compensated on a similar basis to other postmasters in the Horizon Shortfall Scheme.
In December 2022, the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board was established and given a remit to advise on all three compensation schemes. Last year, the Government announced a £600,000 Fixed Sum Award offer for convicted postmasters as an optional alternative to having their compensation individually assessed.
Why do we need a public inquiry?
It is incredibly important to make sure we have a clear account of the systemic failures shown by the Post Office. That is why a non-statutory inquiry was established by the Government in September 2020 and in June 2021, when the scale and complexity of the issue became clear, it was enhanced to a statutory inquiry, chaired by Sir Wyn Williams.
It is expected to report in full by the end of the year and following its findings we will be able to gain individual and corporate accountability for the actions of the Post Office during this period. Those responsible should be held to account by whatever means necessary, including prosecutions.
*This page will be updated following any further announcements*