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‘Technical issues’ leave Post Office branches with ATM cash discrepancies

Discrepancies of up to £2,000 reported after an ‘IT change’ impacted more than 200 Post Office branches

Hundreds of Post Office branches were left with cash shortfalls after upgrades to ageing ATMs. According to a message sent to subpostmasters by the Post Office, a total of 205 branches were affected out of 1,400 that have ATMs.

One subpostmaster said discrepancies of up to £2,000 were being reported.

The Post Office memo said: “Following a supplier IT change being implemented on Thursday 24 February, we are aware of an ATM balancing discrepancy issue that has affected 205 branches out of the network of 1,400.”

Despite the memo, the Post Office told Computer Weekly: “On the 205 branch figure you mention, that’s not a figure we recognise with regard to branches with ATMs that have experienced a problem.”

When the shortages first occurred, subpostmasters took to a chat group to air their worries. “From the 28th Feb, over £1,000 shortage,” said one. “Ripping hair out is an understatement.”

The Post Office warned subpostmasters: “When you first balance your ATM after 24 February, you may notice a difference between cash remaining in the ATM and the value of cash reported on the QR code you scan into Horizon.”

It advised subpostmasters to report this discrepancy as per their normal balancing processes. “We will make sure this discrepancy does not impact your branch accounts,” said the message. “We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you.”

Following the Post Office memo received on 3 March, another subpostmaster posted to the chat board: “At long last, maybe sleep better tonight.”

The Post Office added: “Unfortunately, the Bank of Ireland ATMs that we have migrated to our estate are very old, some dating back to 2006. So, as we have installed upgrades to these ATMs, there are some branches that have experienced some technical issues.”

"The issue was first raised on 24 February and was resolved on 25 February. There were no losses to postmasters, or the Post Office, and we contacted all affected postmasters as soon as we were made aware of the issue and apologised to them for this error.”

One subpostmaster said it was good that the Post Office had quickly acknowledged the problem: “At least the Post Office fessed up quickly.”

The worries experienced by the affected subpostmasters is understandable, with the Post Office’s failure in the past to address IT concerns raised by subpostmasters.

The government-owned organisation caused one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history when it blamed subpostmasters for accounting shortfalls that were actually caused by computer errors. A High Court battle, which ended in 2019, proved that computer errors had caused the accounting shortfalls.

Although being warned by subpostmasters of problems with the Horizon retail and accounting system, almost immediately after its introduction, the Post Office ignored them. It did not investigate the issues and the subpostmasters’ contracts stated that they were responsible for any losses.

Over a 15-year period from the introduction of the Horizon system from Fujitsu in 2000, subpostmasters were prosecuted, with many sent to prison, and thousands of lives were ruined after being blamed for the accounting shortfalls. There is currently a public inquiry into what is known as the Post Office Horizon scandal.

The Post Office is seen as an increasingly important alternative to bank branches as more are closed down, particularly in rural areas. As bank branch closures gather pace, transaction volumes at Post Offices are expected to increase.

Dozens of banks and building societies are part of the Post Office’s Banking Framework, which enables customers to withdraw or deposit cash at any Post Office branch. Customers can pay in cash and cheques, withdraw money and check their account balance.

Update: The Post Office has now confirmed that 205 branches were affected.

For more information about the Post Office Horizon scandal, read the stories below.

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon scandal articles since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

Read more on IT for financial services

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