The government is offering £600,000 to convicted postmasters involved in the Horizon IT scandal, but a solicitor representing some of the accused believes this amount is insufficient.
Each of the hundreds of postmasters wrongfully convicted in the Horizon IT scandal will be offered £600,000 to settle their legal claims.
Post Office Limited, a company wholly owned by the British government, employed around 700 postmasters and sub-postmasters who were wrongly accused of fraud due to an error in the Horizon accounting software, developed by Fujitsu.
Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake stated that the £600,000 offer is available to anyone who wishes to resolve their claims quickly, acknowledging that those affected have endured significant hardship for an extended period.
The Post Office implemented Horizon in the late 1990s, but a software fault caused discrepancies in the accounts of several branches.
Post Office managers erroneously accused subpostmasters of wrongdoing, resulting in over 700 individuals being wrongfully prosecuted and convicted of false accounting or theft between 1999 and 2015.
An independent inquiry into the Horizon scandal is currently underway, and a total of £120 million has already been disbursed to 2,600 affected individuals through the Overturned Convictions process, the Horizon Shortfall Scheme, and the Group Litigation Order.
The government has reported that 86 convictions have been overturned thus far, and those who have already received initial compensation payments will have their compensation increased to £600,000.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr. Hollinrake stated, “The government has decided that postmasters who have had their convictions overturned based on Horizon evidence should have the upfront opportunity to accept an offer of a fixed sum as a final settlement of their claim. The sum will be £600,000, not up to £600,000. There will be no requirement for evidence other than demonstrating that the individual has had their conviction overturned.”
He also added, “Any postmaster who does not wish to accept this offer can, of course, continue with the existing process. Therefore, accepting the offer is entirely optional.”
Mr. Hollinrake emphasized that the government aims to ensure that it handles the situation correctly and wants to provide aggrieved postmasters with an optional, efficient, and uncomplicated path to resolution.
However, solicitor Neil Hudgell, who represents 70 former subpostmasters seeking compensation, believes that the government’s offer falls significantly short in many cases.
He stated, “While we appreciate any announcement that benefits our clients, we are somewhat surprised by this unexpected offer. After months of negotiations with the Post Office and the government to determine a fair and complete compensation amount for former subpostmasters who have had their convictions overturned, we find this sudden announcement concerning.”
Mr. Hudgell expressed concern that many of his clients might view the government’s move as another attempt by the Post Office to control the overall narrative.
He added, “Although the government has stated that these offers are optional, my apprehension is that due to the previous delays and the specific circumstances faced by many subpostmasters, some may feel compelled to accept this offer, even though their claims are worth significantly more.”
“While £600,000 may seem like a substantial amount of money, in many cases, it is far from sufficient to compensate for the losses suffered over the past two decades,” he continued.
Post Office Chief Executive Nick Read welcomed the government’s announcement, stating, “The Post Office is making progress in rapidly compensating those affected and welcomes the news that the government has found a way to offer the option of settling claims through an upfront offer.”
He further advised claimants to seek advice from their independent legal and professional representatives to determine whether accepting the offer is suitable in their specific circumstances.
Last month, Mr. Read volunteered to return a £54,400 bonus he received for the 2021-2022 financial year as a result of his cooperation with the Horizon inquiry.
PA Media contributed to this report.