Horizon scandal compensation ‘nowhere near’ enough, say subpostmasters

Subpostmasters Credit: PA

Subpostmasters have told MPs they have received “nowhere near” the funds they lost to the Post Office during the Horizon scandal.

Paul Harry, a former subpostmaster who was accused of false accounting by the Post Office, said he has received only around a fifth of the funds he cashed out to the mail delivery operation after shortfalls appeared in the Horizon accounting system.

A number of other former subpostmasters and lawyers also told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee the financial toll of the scandal and the below-par compensation which has been offered since the first legal convictions were overturned.

Alan Bates, a former subpostmaster and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance which represents 555 people, said: “I think over the years when they were serving subpostmasters they paid in the region of £8.5 million back to the Post Office in stated shortfalls.

“That’s before anything else, like the loss of their businesses and all the rest of it, including the financial difficulties they’ve be left in.”

Mr Bates added the group received a £56.75 million settlement in 2019, but that £46 million went directly towards the cost of legal action.

“After that was removed, around £11m left, averaging around £20,000 per person,” he continued.

“Unfortunately, each claim is closer to £700,000 in actuality of what people have lost to put them back in the position they started had the Post Office not done what they did.”

The Post Office has previously said it is unable to cover the payments for the exonerated individuals, but shortly before the committee hearing started, the UK Government pledged to cover the bill for the final compensation payments to the wrongly convicted workers.

In a written ministerial statement, postal affairs minister Paul Scully said: “I am pleased to confirm that today the Government is making funding available to facilitate Post Office to make final compensation payments to postmasters whose convictions have been overturned.

“We are working with Post Office to finalise the arrangements that will enable the final settlement negotiations to begin as soon as possible.

“By providing this funding, Government is helping Post Office deliver the fair compensation postmasters deserve.”

So far, 72 postmasters’ convictions have been quashed.

Despite the commitment from the government, chair of the BEIS committee Darren Jones said it was “wholly unacceptable” for the minister’s statement to published shortly before the hearing began.

He also said that “more questions need answering” as to whether the 555 people who paid false shortfalls but were not convicted will receive payments.

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