MPs call for Post Office exclusion from compensation schemes, as trust hits rock bottom

Former subpostmasters and MPs do not trust the Post Office to do the right thing for victims of the Horizon IT scandal

Trust in Post Office management has fallen so low that MPs and subpostmasters are demanding it is removed from the process of compensating those whose lives it wrecked.

The organisation, which used to refer to itself as the “UK’s most trusted brand”, lacks any trust following revelations in the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

In a Business and Trade Committee report, MPs are urged to back recommendations for speeding up and making fairer schemes to pay money owed to former subpostmasters.

The ongoing public spat between Post Office CEO Nick Read and former chairman Henry Staunton is a distraction, but has “substantiated the argument for taking the Post Office out of the mix”, committee chairman Liam Byrne MP told Computer Weekly in an earlier interview.

MPs in the Business and Trade Committee have called for the Post Office to be excluded from involvement in giving financial redress to victims of the scandal it caused and want legally binding deadlines on when final payments should be made.

As committee chairman Liam Byrne told Computer Weekly earlier, the “Post Office is not fit for purpose”. In the committee report, Byrne said the “circus of recent weeks” has to stop and cheques need to “start landing on the doormats of innocent victims”.

“[The Post Office’s] involvement in running [the] redress schemes has to end, and ministers must create a new, independent body that will genuinely help victims through every stage of their compensation claims,” wrote Byrne in his report introduction.

He said only 20% of the money set aside by the government for scandal victims has so far been paid out. The government often refers to over 70% of claimants being paid, but this is misleading as it largely involves people with smaller, less complex claims.

The report said the Post Office’s “leadership remains in disarray; its chairman has been dismissed; and its chief executive, Nick Read, is under internal investigation”.

It added that Read has supplied “misleading evidence to the committee on at least two counts”.

Campaigner and former subpostmaster Alan Bates said: “It’s clear that members of the committee know what’s been going on and the recommendations make a lot of sense, but whether the government takes them on board is another matter.

“But they really need to act on them, and very, very quickly,” he added. Many scandal victims have died before receiving the money they are owed by the government-owned Post Office.

The committee has also called for legally binding deadlines on payments. Byrne said: “To guarantee this scandal drags on no longer, we have to enshrine into law an idea proposed by Mr Bates, of legally binding timetables for payouts.”

Deadlines are required to speed things up. It has been almost four years since a High Court victory for former subpostmasters proved that the Post Office Horizon software was to blame for unexplained accounting shortfalls, It is 15 years since Computer Weekly exposed the problems and it is over 20 years since people like Alan Bates raised issues with the Post Office.

Yet the majority of those with the largest, most complex claims for financial redress, who suffered hugely, are yet to receive money owed to them.

Read how a cack-handed government compensation scheme prolongs suffering of Horizon scandal victims

Byrne said any new bill the government presents to Parliament must pass what he describes as the “Mr Bates test” of legally binding timeframes.

In an earlier interview, he told Computer Weekly the report is short because the committee wanted to get its message across to MPs before the legislation on compensating victims and overturning wrongful convictions is brought to Parliament to vote on.

Byrne believes there is support in Parliament to amend legislation if these recommendations are now included. “You can win a vote in the Commons on a justice matter,” he said. “From the beginning of the year, my strategy has been how to get enough political capital to win a vote in the House of Commons.”

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered as a result of the Horizon system (see below timeline of all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal).

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

• Also watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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