End in sight for sub-postmaster claims against Post Office's Horizon accounting system

Sub-postmasters' claims of errors made by the Horizon accounting system could be completed in three months

Cases brought by sub-postmasters that claim they were wrongly charged with false accounting as a result of errors made by the Horizon accounting system could be completed in three months, as cases move towards a “Mediation” stage for detailed analysis.

After years of protest, heavy fines and even jail terms, some sub-postmasters could soon see their claims decided on. The Post Office could face significant compensation claims.

The investigation has about 70 cases at different stages and more are still coming in. The closing date for claims to be lodged is 18 November 2013.

When cases reach the “Mediation” stage, there is a “face-to-face discussion between two parties, chaired by a neutral and independent mediator,” according to the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA)

“The purpose of mediation is to give each side the opportunity to explain their position. The mediator will then discuss matters with both parties, sometimes together in the same room, sometimes privately with each party,” said the JFSA.

Ever since the Post Office acknowledged for the first time that there might be an issue with its accounting system, Horizon – following pressure from groups such as the JFSA and from MPs – there has been an independent investigation funded by the Post Office. The investigation has been conducted by forensic expert analyst company Second Sight.

The Horizon accounting system is used by thousands of sub-postmasters. It has been blamed by many for sub-postmasters being wrongly charged and even jailed for accounting shortfalls. Others have had to make up cash discrepancies following prosecutions. The Post Office defended the Horizon system unrelentingly until recently.

Computer Weekly first revealed the claims of sub-postmasters regarding Horizon in 2009.

One sub-postmaster with an ongoing case, who had been accused of false accounting, said things appear to be progressing. “It looks like the Post Office is finally getting its act together,” she said.

One source said it looked as if the Post Office wanted to sort out the cases so it can follow Royal Mail into privatisation.

In July 2013 the investigation reported concerns in relation to Horizon. These were: unreliable hardware; the absence of “proper” system training and support; the complexity of linking with a large number of other systems; a business model that puts responsibility for dealing with small system problems with sub-postmasters; and the way the Post Office has in the past investigated concerns about transactions.

Read Computer Weekly case studies from 2009 of those that believe they have suffered as a result of problems related to Horizon.

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