New compensation scheme opens for sub-postmasters who helped uncover Horizons scandal

Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton, says the government has vowed to compensate those affected as soon as it can. Credit: PA

A new compensation scheme for sub-postmasters who helped uncover the Post Office IT scandal has opened for claims.

Hundreds of postmasters - many from the North East and North Yorkshire - were wrongly prosecuted due to faults in computer software.

Dubbed the 'Horizon' scandal after the name of the software, the ordeal saw employees wrongly blamed for accounting errors in the system.

Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton, says the government has vowed to compensate those affected as soon as it can. The new scheme opened on Thursday 23 March.

"We would need things as quickly as possible," he told Parliament.

"It's also important of course that we get these schemes right.

"We want to make sure we get the compensation done first time, right, and that's why it's taken a little bit of time, but I think we're in a much better place now - keen to get these payments out by August 2024, ideally a lot more quickly than that."

In June 2022, a former sub-postmaster from Darlington was exonerated over the scandal, becoming the 75th person to have their conviction overturned.

Richard Ormerod, who owned a Post Office in Darlington, was cleared of three charges of fraud by false accounting, amounting to £31,097, at an unopposed appeal hearing at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday (9 June).

Despite such exonerations, ministers have said the reverberations of the scandal continue to be felt.

Some believe shopkeepers are still being put off from taking on Post Office desks.

In the Commons, SNP Glenrothes MP Mr Grant warned the Government that the current business model for sub-post offices is seen as a "drag on the business", and is discouraging shops from running postal services alongside their day-to-day trade

Speaking from the SNP frontbench, Mr Grant said: "Has the minister done an assessment as to how much damage that scandal has done and is continuing to do to the willingness of business people to take on responsibility for running a sub-post office, given how severely badly, indeed betrayed, so many of their potential colleagues have been in the past?"

Business and trade minister Kevin Hollinrake responded: "It was a horrendous scandal. I think the first thing we need to do is properly compensate the victims of that scandal of course.

"Alongside that there is an inquiry going on, with Sir Wyn Williams heading that inquiry. It is very important we find out exactly what went wrong and who is responsible, and where possible hold those people to account.

"I think that will help restore some measure of confidence to those who have been subject to this disgraceful mistreatment."

Mr Grant also called on the Government to reform the current business model for sub-post offices, telling the Commons: "The people who run these businesses are telling me that they are put off the possibility of taking responsibility for a sub-post office because it is more of a drag on the business now rather than a benefit.

"What steps is he taking to review the business model on which sub-post offices are operated? Because at the moment it is very clear that it is not fit for purpose and we are getting to a crisis point.

"If it is not changed soon we will lose even more post offices than we already have." Mr Hollinrake replied: "Clearly the model of the Post Office is evolving into a more diversified approach. I think it is important that remuneration is fair, it makes these post offices sustainable.

"I was pleased to see in August 2022 some improvements were made to remuneration. I appreciate that might not have gone as far as some might wish, but nevertheless we do want to see a sustainable network and make sure our sub-postmasters are fairly remunerated."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...