Less than a third of Post Office workers who applied for compensation under a government scheme in the wake of the Horizon IT scandal have received a payout offer, almost 17 months after it closed, MPs have been told.
The Horizon IT system installed by the Post Office and supplied by Fujitsu falsely suggested there were cash shortfalls, leading to 736 unsafe convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.
The historical shortfall scheme (HSS) was set up in 2020, with a closing date for applications in August of that year, to compensate Post Office workers who had not been convicted but who had instead been forced to replace missing funds from their own pocket.
Appearing before the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee on Tuesday, the chief executive of the Post Office, Nick Read, said that there had been 2,500 applications to the HSS but only 777 offers had been made. He said the size of the panel dealing with claims was doubled in October, and was bullish about future progress.
“From my perspective, we will get to 50% by the end of March and we will get to in excess of 95% by the end of the calendar year … I hope therefore that we will ensure that as many of those individuals who have come forward will be compensated and/or their families if not the individuals themselves.”
Separately, those who have had a criminal conviction overturned are entitled to an interim compensation payment of £100,000, but Read said only 57 people had received the sum so far. He explained that this was because only 72 of the 736 people whom the Post Office acknowledges as having an unsafe conviction have had them overturned so far, despite attempts to contact them all. Read told the committee that the Post Office had not managed to contact 126 of the 736, while 214 had not responded to letters.
Asked why they might not have responded, Read replied: “There will be many individuals who will want to put it behind them and won’t want to revisit it.”
The postal affairs minister, Paul Scully, went further in his evidence to the committee. “There is a mistrust in this entire process, not just with the Post Office but with government, with everybody, because they’ve had 20 years of absolute hell,” he said. “So why would they trust authority in general?”