Campaigning former subpostmaster fears compensation for scandal victims will be delayed to 2025

The man who exposed the Post Office scandal fears a long delay for victims due to compensation process being "bogged down by bureaucracy"

Campaigner Alan Bates, the man who led a group of over 500 former subpostmasters to expose the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, fears victims will not receive full compensation until 2025, because the government scheme lacks drive and is “bogged down in bureaucracy”.

Bates has accused the Post Office of failing to disclose information vital to the legal representatives of the scandal victims and said the organisation will miss its August 2024 deadline for all payments to be made.

Bates formed the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) campaign group in 2009, made up of subpostmasters who suffered great hardship as a result of  errors in branch software which caused unexplained losses and the Post Office’s brutal way of dealing with the issue.

Following the introduction of software from Fujitsu in 2000, to automate mainly manual practices in Post Office branches, subpostmasters began suffering unexplained financial shortfalls. Subpostmasters were blamed for the shortfalls, which didn’t actually exist, and had to repay them. Over 700 were prosecuted for financial crimes with many serving prison sentences. Thousands more suffered life-changing hardship as a result of failed businesses and repaying the unexplained shortfalls.

In 2009, a Computer Weekly investigation first revealed that subpostmasters were being blamed for unexplained accounting shortfalls, which they believed to be caused by software errors (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

A decade later, the JFSA took the Post Office to the High Court in a Group Litigation Order (GLO) and exposed the truth about the faulty software, which up until that point the Post Office had claimed was error free. The judgements in the High Court case triggered the unravelling of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history. So far, 86 former subpostmasters have had wrongful convictions for theft and fraud overturned.

The success for the 555 subpostmasters in the High Court saw them awarded £58m in damages, but after their legal costs – provided by a litigation funder that requires repayment with interest – were taken out, they were left with just £11m to share. This left people who had lost homes, businesses and huge sums of money, with an average of a few thousand pounds each.

The GLO claimants were originally excluded from the Post Office compensation scheme set up as a result of their court victory, but subsequently had a separate compensation scheme announced in March last year following another hard-fought campaign.

A government U-turn saw a new GLO compensation scheme for final payments finally announced in March 2022 and launched this year. Its goal is to return victims to the financial position they would have been in had the scandal not happened.

Most JFSA members have received interim compensation, but Bates has now written to over 500 members, many of which have suffered for about 20 years, expressing his belief that final payments are unlikely to be paid for up to two more years.

Bates, who recently turned down an offer of an OBE for his monumental achievements, wrote: “Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you deserve to know the truth about where I understand matters to currently stand. At present I can’t see final offers in the GLO compensation scheme being made until well into 2025 as the whole scheme seems bogged down in bureaucracy, and there seems no willingness to drive the scheme through.

“Since [it was launched], the scheme seems to have been bogged down by bureaucracy or has stalled, either intentionally or not, in a number of areas. The one of most concern is disclosure, or lack of, by the Post Office, i.e. the disclosure of the information it holds on you.”

Bates added: “Of all the processes a claim has to go through, why on earth disclosure of all the details Post Office holds on you should become such a seemingly insurmountable problem, I have no idea, it makes no sense, other than it is either abject incompetence (Post Office incompetent?) or for some other reason they don’t want to hand over what they have on you.  The failure of Post Office to provide disclosure on your case is holding up your lawyer from working on your claim as there is very little the lawyers can do until they receive the disclosure documents, and I know all your law firms have been chasing the disclosure issue for months without any success.”

In his JFSA circular, Bates recommended the Post Office be given four weeks to provide whatever disclosure it holds on each subpostmaster case. “ If during that time Post Office can’t provide evidence to refute a claim made by a claimant then the benefit of doubt [should be] given to the claimant,” he wrote.

Bates also told JFSA members there has been slow progress on deciding the types of losses victims can claim for and their values, known as the Heads of Claim.

“I think we have all been patient enough now and we have given all those responsible more than enough time to move this forward, but all they seem to have done is sit on it, so it’s time for our voices to be heard once again,” wrote Bates. He said JFSA members should contact their MPs and share their frustrations with them.

“We will get there eventually, but like you, I don’t want to be waiting until 2025,” concluded Bates in his circular to the group.

In January 2022 Computer Weekly revealed that the government-owned Post Office had received taxpayer subsidies worth over £1bn in 2021, for a scheme labelled Post Office Historical Matters Compensation.

The government told Computer Weekly that it is determined to deliver Horizon compensation to GLO postmasters before August 2024. It said to date, £19.2m has been paid in interim payments and £2.4m has been paid in part-settlements.

"Out of 492 claimants, we have received 435 registration forms for the scheme and 360 claim overview forms," said a spokesperson.

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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