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Post Office apologises as system goes down

The Post Office computer system failed on 9 May 2016, leaving sub-postmasters unable to open branches

Post Office branches all over the UK were unable to operate for an hour and a half on 9 May 2016 as a result of a problem with the Horizon computer system, which thousands of sub-postmasters use.

The Post Office turned customers away because of the problems with the computer system, which is at the centre of a group action against the Post Office.

Mark Baker, national branch secretary postmasters at the Communication Workers Union (CWU), said forums were full of sub-postmasters complaining that they were unable to work.

Baker had to close his own branch for nearly two hours, he added. “The entire network went down at 8:30am today and we were back up at around 10am,” he said.

At 10.33am, the Post Office said on its Facebook account: “We’re aware of issues with counter services at some branches. We’re working urgently to resolve this, and we apologise for inconvenience or delay.”

At 11.10am, it said: “We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused by issues with counter services at some branches this morning. This has now been resolved.”

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We are sorry for any inconvenience or delay caused to customers this morning when our branches experienced problems processing customer transactions.

“Services were affected from around 9.00am until just after 10.00 this morning, though some branches were able to continue to serve customers. Our priority was to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. To do this there was a very short period when all branches were affected.”

“We are continuing to monitor services to ensure it is business as usual in our branches.”

Horizon under scrutiny

Baker said sub-postmasters do not get paid for the time that the system is down and blamed the age of the system for the problems.

Thousands of Post Office branches use the ICL/Fujitsu Services-developed IT system for their accounts.

This system has come under scrutiny for years and is blamed by many sub-postmasters for causing account shortfalls that they have been made to pay back, with some even being prosecuted.

Group action by sub-postmasters

In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting – which they blamed on the Horizon system and supporting processes. The Post Office has vehemently denied this claim. (See timeline below for more about the dispute).

The Post Office currently faces a group action brought by many of these sub-postmasters and high court proceedings were issued against it earlier in 2016.

Meanwhile the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is currently considering 20 applications from sub-postmasters related to prosecutions for account shortfalls, which they blame on the Post Office’s Horizon computer system. Most of theses applicants received suspended or non-custodial sentences, including community service, but six received custodial sentences for between six and 18 months

Post Office Horizon: Timeline of events

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