The government has promised that it will make funding available for compensation to subpostmasters affected by the Horizon software scandal.
In a statement, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets Paul Scully said the government wants to see” those with quashed convictions compensated fairly and swiftly”.
“There are potentially hundreds more postmasters whose convictions have relied on Horizon evidence and may seek to have their convictions quashed,” he said. “We want to see these postmasters with quashed convictions compensated fairly and swiftly. So far, the vast majority of postmasters who have had their convictions quashed have each received an interim compensation payment of up to £100,000 while they wait for the next steps in the proceedings.
“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.
“With the Secretary of State’s status as sole shareholder in the Post Office, my Department continues to engage actively with Post Office Limited on this and will maintain strong oversight of the compensation process.”
The Post Office welcomed the announcement and said it is working with government to finalise the arrangements that will enable final settlements negotiations to begin as soon as possible.
Post Office chief executive, Nick Read, said: “Whilst we cannot change the past, it is right that meaningful compensation is provided to victims of the Horizon scandal as fast as possible. Many former postmasters have waited a long time for justice and Post Office welcomes the Government’s announcement that funding is being made available for compensation that recognises the impact on the lives of those affected.”
The timing of the statement and the extent of compensation already promised came under fire.
During a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee held on the same day (14 November) chair Darren Jones said: “It doesn’t answer all of the questions we have about funds being made available to all of the victims and cover all of their losses.”
He added that it was “wholly unacceptable” for ministers to publish the statement two hours before the committee began.
Former subpostmaster and founder of Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance of Alan Bates explained that after legal costs, the £57m settlement agreement awarded in December 2019 came nowhere close to compensating the losses suffered by subpostmasters.
A second evidence session on issues around compensation for subpostmasters is planned for January 2022, when the Committee expects to take evidence from current Post Office CEO Nick Read and Paul Scully, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.