Thank you for contacting me about the Post Office/Horizon IT scandal.
This EDM was tabled in a previous Parliament and is now unavailable for signature. However, like many of my Parliamentary colleagues across the House, I am appalled by the treatment of the sub-postmasters who were accused of theft based on flawed evidence from the Horizon IT system. Victims' accounts of the impact of these prosecutions are harrowing: some served prison sentences; many had their livelihoods and life savings decimated; marriages broke down; four committed suicide; others passed away before being able to clear their names; and many were ostracised by their local communities and as a result failed to find alternative work.
In December 2019, a High Court judgment said that the Horizon system was not "remotely robust" for the first ten years of its use, and that problems had continued even after that. Since then, a total of 75 former postmasters' convictions have been quashed in a series of rulings, with more expected to come.
I am further encouraged that the Post Office has finally apologised for its failing and agreed to make payments those affected.
79 of the 84 postmasters with overturned historical convictions have received interim payments, totalling over £10.2 million. The Post Office has reached full and final settlement with 4 postmasters. In order to deliver compensation as quickly as possible, the Post Office is handling non-pecuniary and pecuniary claims separately. A further 63 non-pecuniary claims had been received, of which all but three had received offers. 49 of these have been paid and settled, with one more claim paid, subject to settlement paperwork, which will bring the total to 50, once received. In addition to the 4 full and final settlements, Post Office had made pecuniary settlement offers to 4 of the 9 postmasters who had submitted a pecuniary claim.
The High Court Group Litigation Order case against the Post Office brought by 555 postmasters exposed the scandal. As you may know, postmasters who had not been party it would receive proper compensation through what is now
the Historical Shortfall Scheme. However, Group Litigation Order postmasters had much of their compensation taken up by the associated costs of funding their case and they were ineligible to access further compensation through the Historical Shortfall Scheme. This meant that they received less than those in similar circumstances who were not party to the case. The Government agreed to run an additional compensation scheme to put this right and to allow Group Litigation Order postmasters to access similar compensation as that available to their Historical Shortfall Scheme peers in similar circumstances.
I welcome the Government's decision to legislate to ensure Group Litigation Order postmasters will pay no income tax, capital gains tax, National Insurance contributions, inheritance tax or VAT on compensation payments. The compensation scheme for Group Litigation Order case postmasters opened on 23 March 2023 and details on how to apply can be found online here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/compensation-scheme-for-grou….
While we cannot undo the damage that has been done, we must establish what went wrong. I am aware that nobody at either the Post Office or Fujitsu has been held directly accountable. However, in light of the rulings, the Government converted a public inquiry into the affair to a statutory footing which allows its Chair, Sir Wyn Williams, the necessary powers and time to conduct an in-depth analysis of the decision-making processes that led to the scandal. Sir Wyn's findings and recommendations will be made public at a later stage. In the meantime, I will follow the progress of the inquiry very carefully indeed.
The harm that these prosecutions have wreaked on the affected families over the past 20 years is irreparable. Lessons should and will be learnt to ensure that an injustice of this magnitude never happens again.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me.