Schemes aimed to compensate former post office operators, who were affected by Horizon IT scandal, are “a patchwork quilt” with “holes in it”, the chair of the inquiry into the scandal has said, forecasting that they are likely to miss the deadline to pay up.
On Monday (17), the inquiry’s chair, Sir Wyn Williams, called for legislative change to resolve issues for the compensation schemes that were put in place to recompense those affected by the scandal.
“There are three schemes in existence by which compensation can be delivered to eligible applicants. They came into existence at different times, and are responses to very different sets of circumstances as they unfolded. What has emerged is a patchwork quilt of compensation schemes. And, unfortunately, it is a patchwork quilt with some holes in it,” The Guardian quoted Williams as saying.
So far almost £100 million has been paid out so far by the Post Office and the government but Williams said it was his “strongly held view” that administrators would be “unable to deliver compensation payments to all applicants” by the deadline of Aug 7 next year, saying it would mean that 550 claims would have to be heard within 20 months.
“I am left with the distinct impression that the most complex cases have not been addressed as speedily as might have been the case.”
He has sent a report setting out his recommendations to business minister Kevin Hollinrake in an attempt to ensure “full and fair” compensation is paid to those affected by the scandal.
“The evidence upon me hasn’t changed. It hasn’t lessened to a degree. Many hundreds of people suffered disastrous consequences by reason of the misuse of data from Horizon, and thousands more suffered very significantly.”
Williams said he had “been of the view for some months that we are too far down the road with each scheme to contemplate abandoning them in favour of one comprehensive scheme”.
Despite it being more than a year since Sir Wyn closed the “human impact evidence” portion of the inquiry, he said “the effect of the evidence upon me hasn’t changed”.
“It hasn’t lessened to a degree,” he said.
More than 700 people were prosecuted for theft and false accounting between 2000 and 2014 after the Post Office’s flawed Horizon IT system incorrectly suggested there were financial shortfalls. A high court judge ruled in 2019 that the system contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and many of the criminal convictions were overturned.
The Post Office had paid out more than £80m across the historical shortfall scheme and the overturned historical convictions scheme by the end of April 2023. The government also paid out an additional £19m in interim compensation under the group litigation scheme in the same period.