turtl3 - Fotolia
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
- May 2009: Bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods – postmasters tell their story.
- September 2009: Postmasters form action group after accounts shortfall.
- November 2009: Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions.
- February 2011: Post Office faces legal action over alleged accounting system failures.
- October 2011: 85 sub-postmasters seek legal support in claims against Post Office computer system.
- June 2012: Post Office launches external review of system at centre of legal disputes.
- January 2013: Post Office admits that Horizon system needs more investigation.
- January 2013: Post Office announces amnesty for Horizon evidence.
- January 2013: Post Office wants to get to bottom of IT system allegations.
- June 2013: Investigation into Post Office accounting system to drill down on strongest cases.
- July 2013: Post Office Horizon system investigation reveals concerns.
- October 2013: End in sight for sub-postmaster claims against Post Office’s Horizon accounting system.
- October 2013: Former Lord Justice of Appeal Hooper joins Post Office Horizon investigation.
- November 2013: 150 sub-postmasters file claims over ‘faulty’ Horizon accounting system.
- September 2014: Fresh questions raised over Post Office IT system’s role in fraud cases.
- December 2014: Members of Parliament (MPs) blast Post Office over IT system investigation and remove backing.
- December 2014: Why MPs lost faith in the Post Office’s IT investigation, but vowed to fight on.
- December 2014: MPs to debate subpostmaster IT injustice claims.
- December 2014: MP accuses Post Office of acting “duplicitously” in IT investigation.
- January 2015: MPs force inquiry into Post Office sub-postmaster mediation scheme.
- January 2015: Post Office faces grilling by MPs over Horizon accounting system.
- February 2015: Post Office CIO would talk to any sub-postmaster about IT problems, promises CEO.
- March 2015: Post Office ends working group for IT system investigation day before potentially damaging report.
- March 2015: MPs seek reassurance over Post Office mediation scheme.
- March 2015: Retiring MP aims to uncover truth of alleged Post Office computer system problems.
- April 2015: Post Office failed to investigate account shortfalls before legal action, report claims.
- April 2015: Criminal Courts Review Commission set to review sub-postmasters’ claims of wrongful prosecution.
- May 2015: IT system related to sub-postmaster prosecutions under review by CCRC.
- June 2015: Post Office looking to replace controversial Horizon system with IBM, says MP.
- July 2015: Campaigners call for independent inquiry into Post Office Horizon IT system dispute.
- October 2015: James Arbuthnot takes Post Office IT fight to House of Lords.
- November 2015: The union that represents Post Office subpostmasters has warned of a problem with the Horizon accounting system.
- November 2015: An email from Post Office IT support reveals a problem with the Horizon system and supporting processes that could lead to accounting errors.
- November 2015: Group litigation against Post Office being prepared in Horizon dispute.
- February 2016: Post Office faces group litigation over Horizon IT as sub-postmasters fund class action.