Post Office post box

The Post Office has begun discretely compensating retailers with historic issues related to its Horizon computer system, with at least £300,000 paid out to two subpostmasters so far.

Several sources confirmed to betterRetailing that a newly set up Post Office department – the Complex Cases Review Team (CCRT) has been looking over claims put to them by individual postmasters. However, the Post Office is yet to disclose the terms of how the scheme works.

Communication Workers Union branch secretary Mark Baker confirmed: “The Post Office is paying out substantial sums to those postmasters that suffered because of its Horizon computer system but were not included in last year’s group litigation settlement. We have two subpostmasters who between them, have received approximately £300,000.”

A spokesperson for the Post Office confirmed: “We don’t comment on individual cases, but we’re continuing to directly address past events for postmasters affected.  A scheme will be announced in the near future with the aim of addressing historic shortfalls for current and former postmasters who were not part of the Group Litigation. The scheme is not therefore yet open to applicants, and we intend to ensure it is widely publicised and accessible to all those who wish to make a claim.”

Last year saw 550 subpostmasters’ fight for justice through the civil courts come to an end. They had claimed to have lost significant sum, their livelihoods and businesses, and that some were wrongly convicted and imprisoned due to accounting deficits caused by their till systems. They received a £58million settlement, although at least 80% is expected to be taken up by their legal costs.

Baker said the new £300,000 compensation payments covered both the value of the accounting deficits blamed on the retailers and loss of earnings during ‘disproportionate’ suspensions. He added that the CCRT was set up in late December and those that have submitted claims have received letters stating their cases are being considered.

Chief executive of the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) Calum Greenhow also confirmed that its members had been directed to the CCRT team and called on the Post Office to publish the terms of the CCRT’s compensation scheme. He also revealed to betterRetailing that the NFSP has received 14 new claims from subpostmasters about recent alleged accounting deficits caused by the Horizon till system. Greenhow said he was “very, very angry,” about the Post Office’s response to the Horizon scandal and pledged to support retailers that wish to demand compensation from the Post Office through the CCRT.

Legal firm Ward Hadaway is understood to also be investigating potential legal action on behalf of subpostmasters not included in the group litigation settlement. Partner at the firm and commercial litigation expert Stephen Lewis said its team was looking to speak with former and current subpostmasters and had a team investigating Horizon related issues.

News of the ongoing compensation at the Post Office follows a Business Select Committee hearing into the Post Office on 10 March. It saw subpostmasters affected by the trial, the NFSP and the CWU criticise the actions of the Post Office and the Government’s failure to act over the two decade long scandal. The NFSP also came under heavy historic criticism for failing to support its members at the time of the majority of the issues, which spanned from the late 1990s to 2018.

Parties involved called for a judge led public inquiry, as promised by Boris Johnson in parliament on 2 March. In completing changes to its management structure to bring subpostmasters closer to the PO’s leadership, hiring a new chief executive and setting up of the CCRT, the Post Office hopes to move finally put to be the Horizon scandal. However, former subpostmaster and Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance founder Alan Bates described the task facing the new chief executive Post Office executive Nick Read stating: “He’s got an uphill struggle. He’s a new coat on old paint that’s rotten underneath.”

Pressure on the Post Office over the scandal looks set to continue. A criminal case review commission investigation is underway to examine the criminal convictions and prosecutions of subpostmasters led by the Post Office. A Panorama episode focusing on the scandal is set to air on 23 March.