It is detected that Javascript is turned off in your web brower. Please turn it on to load the page correctly. For more reference about how to turn it on, please refer instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.

Horizon

The ‘Horizon Scandal’ has been described as the largest miscarriage of justice in British history.

This webpage provides information on the NFSP’s perspective of the scandal – and outlines what the NFSP is doing to support our members with Horizon and disputes with Post Office Ltd (PO). 

 

Overview

The NFSP was formed in 1897 by a body of subpostmasters with the intention of improving “the conditions under which subpostmasters labour and to undertake the advancement of our interests by all legitimate and honourable means”. Clearly then, issues and tensions between the Post Office (PO) and subpostmasters are not a recent phenomenon. However, the relationship deteriorated considerably as post office numbers declined – starting in the 1980s and accelerating in the early 2000s. 

Over this period, footfall and income to the network declined – especially as Government services were systematically withdrawn from post office counters. It is the NFSP’s view that post office branches were treated as a cost element to be reduced and subpostmasters were relegated to the bottom of the food chain by PO. This resulted in support from PO for serving subpostmasters being marginalised amid changes to the network. 

PO’s attitude in relation to the Horizon system was symptomatic of this overall treatment of subpostmasters. As soon as Horizon was rolled out across the network, unexplained shortages in cash or stock began to be identified. Standard practice was for the subpostmaster or Crown office staff member to be required to explain how the loss occurred, rather than PO investigate the issue thoroughly to determine the cause – be it Horizon, human error, or something else. PO did not invest time and resource into investigating the cause of discrepancies and were unsympathetic to the denials of guilt issued by the subpostmasters and Crown office staff whom they subsequently prosecuted. PO’s position was always that Horizon was infallible and not to blame. 

The lack of care and support for subpostmasters, and the aggressive approach towards loss recovery, created a culture of fear within the network. An audit that showed a loss could all too quickly lead to suspension, and often to a loss of the subpostmaster’s business, home, and reputation. 

The problems were not isolated to PO’s behaviour. As the NFSP outlined to the BEIS Select Committee in 2020, the scale of the problem with Horizon and PO’s behaviour towards subpostmasters and Crown office staff is still evident in the present day. The NFSP believes that not enough was done by a range of stakeholders over a 20-year period to challenge PO on Horizon. This includes: 

  • Successive Governments 
  • Opposition parties over this period 
  • BEIS  
  • UKGI
  • Representative bodies including the NFSP and the CWU

Successive Governments have taken an arm’s length approach to PO even though it is 100% owned by the Government. Instead, PO operates as an independent commercial business, though without thorough external oversight. Therefore, when challenges to the robustness of Horizon were raised, Ministers turned to PO for a response and appeared to take this at face value when addressing fellow MPs’ enquiries.  

However, issues relating to Horizon were rarely raised within Parliament. From 1999 to 2020, there are c. 19,000 references to post offices on Hansard – but only around 300 of these include a reference to Horizon, whereas around 1,600 relate to post office closures.  

Subpostmasters, who invest their own finances into their business, are important stakeholders in the post office network and the Post Office brand. For too long, Government and PO have not treated subpostmasters appropriately. Without subpostmasters, PO cannot function. The current PO CEO’s intention to ‘reset the relationship’ between PO and subpostmasters is welcomed by the NFSP, however from recent NFSP research, we believe they have a long way to go. 

The NFSP’s role

Under its current leadership, the NFSP has appraised its own role in the Horizon scandal. It is a source of considerable regret to the current CEO and Board that the former leadership of the NFSP did not take more assertive action over the Horizon dispute. The NFSP could and should have done more to support subpostmasters affected by the scandal. 

However, the history of the NFSP’s activity in relation to the Horizon dispute is more complex than much of the public discourse on the issue and is comprised of conflicting narratives. 

The NFSP Board is made up of serving subpostmasters elected by their peers. The current Board has supported many NFSP members in disputes with PO. None has ever treated members as if they were ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and none took PO’s side in a dispute. Of course, that is not to say that the outcome sought by individual NFSP members was achieved in every instance.  

It has always been the policy of the NFSP to support our members in the event of a shortfall of cash or stock in their post office (whether related to the Horizon system or not); and to offer advice and support to any subsequent investigation by PO.  

Historically, only very limited information was available during investigation meetings. For example, systems data which the NFSP and the subpostmaster under investigation, might have been able to scrutinise was rarely, if ever, made available by PO. As a result, it was often extremely difficult to call on evidence to counter PO’s allegations. 

A further limiting factor was that many investigation interviews involving PO and subpostmasters were carried out under Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 PACE conditions. Where this was the case, NFSP representatives were only able to attend in a supporting capacity, which reduced their ability to defend the affected subpostmaster. The NFSP has seen this issue cited on social media as evidence that the NFSP did not support members during dispute interviews – but under PACE conditions, NFSP representatives could do very little during an interview. 

Also contrary to much of the public discourse on the issue, the NFSP challenged PO on numerous occasions about the reliability of the Horizon system. PO’s response was always that the system was reliable, and that user-error was the primary cause of the problems.  

However, the NFSP’s current leadership has no doubt that more could and should have been done to challenge PO privately and in public and to prevent affected subpostmasters from falling victim to this extended miscarriage of justice.  

It is a source of considerable regret to the current Board and management of the NFSP that a number of subpostmasters came to the NFSP for support but had to wait for many years to successfully defend their names through the GLO and the support of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA). Several of these victims of the Horizon dispute have cited disappointment and frustration with the actions of individual NFSP representatives and the behaviour of the NFSP at large, which is a source of deep regret.  

The current CEO’s message to NFSP members since the conclusion of the GLO Bates vs Post Office has been that – while the NFSP of the present day cannot change the mistakes of the past, it can represent subpostmasters’ interests to full effect now and in future.  

The present day

The NFSP has supported the ongoing Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry in several ways – including providing written and oral evidence and enabling NFSP members to contribute to the Inquiry’s People survey. 

We welcomed the Inquiry’s conversion to being a statutory inquiry in June 2021.  

The NFSP will continue to support and contribute to the inquiry in any further way Sir Wyn Williams, the Inquiry Chair, sees fit. The NFSP is committed to ensuring that nothing like the Horizon scandal ever happens again. 

We believe that those who suffered due to Post Office Ltd (PO) ways of dealing with shortfalls and issues with the Horizon system should be appropriately recompensed, including consequential losses, and have their reputations restored. It is not right that any GLO claimant should have received, via the settlement reached in late 2019, less than the value of the historic losses they were held responsible for. We have raised this issue on numerous occasions with Government and PO. 

Human Impact – Evidence Request

In line with the NFSP’s commitment to support and contribute to the Horizon Inquiry, we held an information evening on Thursday 10 February 2022 regarding the request to hear about the human impact on those affected by the Horizon issue.

The session was attended by Inquiry representatives who answered member’s questions.

Two pathways of engagement have been offered; written evidence, or focus group participation. Further details are included in this letter.

If you require NFSP support to contribute to the Inquiry, please email ruth.buckley-salmon@nfsp.org.uk

 

Core participant written submission from the NFSP

Regarding the eligibility of persons to claim compensation under the existing schemes set up by PO and its sponsoring department in government, the NFSP support every category listed below to be eligible:

  1. Subpostmasters and subpostmistresses, managers, assistants and employees of PO, who were charged with criminal offences and prosecuted by the Post Office but who were acquitted at trial;
  2. Subpostmasters and subpostmistresses, managers, assistants and employees of PO, who were charged with criminal offences and prosecuted by the Post Office but whose cases were discontinued or withdrawn before trial;
  3. Subpostmasters and subpostmistresses, managers, assistants and employees of PO, whose appeals were conceded by the Post Office on the grounds that it would not be in the public interest to retry their cases and whose convictions have been overturned by the Crown Court.

 

Historical shortfall scheme

The Historical Shortfall Scheme (HSS) was set up to deal with subpostmaster claims from those who were not part of the group litigation order (GLO) and had not been convicted of any crimes. The scheme was open between May and August 2020 and accepted 2,400 claimants. 

The NFSP believes that any subpostmaster either past or present has the right to dispute any unidentified shortages that have occurred in their Branch. Despite the original scheme having a cut-off date of August 2020 we have campaigned for a re-opening of the claims procedure to allow late claims to be submitted for the period from year 2000 – December 2017.  

The current claims are being processed as quickly as possible and the expectation is that most, if not all claims, will be settled by the end of Summer 2022. Once a new Director is appointed to continue the management of the HSS, we will be seeking a meeting at the earliest opportunity to discuss and encourage a re-opening of the scheme for late claims, without any cut-off date, so ensuring that anyone eligible can submit a claim for consideration.  

Any shortages since 2017 are dealt with through a different process to the HSS.  

Following a meeting with the new Director of the HSS, Simon Recaldin, we can confirm that he is committed to ensuring that 51% of all claims will have either been settled or will have had an offer made by 31st March 2022.  Furthermore, he has promised the Government that 95% of claims will be settled or an offer made by the end of this calendar year.  This is the first time we have been able to get a commitment to timescales from the HSS.  The original Historical Shortfall Scheme has closed and will not be re-opened, however he did confirm that they are also in the process of agreeing and issuing a letter to approx 125 late claimants to understand why they were late claiming, and then to assess whether they are eligible to submit a claim under the late claim scheme.  If you receive one of these letters and want advice, please contact the NFSP for help before returning the correspondence.

If you require further information on the scheme, please contact either Sharon Merryweather (01273 452324) or Keith Richards (07766 650790). 

Timeline for Horizon

1996 

Working Group on Horizon set up with Government, Post Office Ltd (PO), ICL Pathway (Fujitsu), Communications Managers Association (CMA), Communications Workers Union (CWU) and the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) involved. 

The CMA is the trade union that represented management levels within the Royal Mail Group including Post Office Counters. 

The CWU is the trade union that represented non-management levels, such as Crown Office counter clerks, within PO. 

The NFSP was the trade union and is now the trade association (changed status in 2015) who represent the self-employed investing business people who own and operate 99% of the PO network. The NFSP does not represent assistants or employees of PO. 

Banks begin to show interest in Benefits Agency work. 

Government departments of note: 

  • Social Security, Trade & Industry and Treasury  

Notable individuals 

  • Chair of Royal Mail 
  • CEO of Royal Mail 
  • May – New Managing Director of PO announced  

 

No. of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 3 
  • Assistants - 1
  • PO Employees - 2
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 6

Source: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com) 

 

1997 

May – General Election. New Chancellor of the Exchequer announced. New Trade & Industry Minister announced. 

Horizon Pilot begins in the North East and South West of England with 205 of offices. 9 are PO owned Crown Offices, 196 Sub-Post Offices. 

Scoping of offices to accommodate Horizon equipment begins 

Development of Post Office Card Account (POCa) begins. Aim to transfer 18 million claimants to POCa. 

Government departments involved 

Social Security, Trade & Industry and Treasury  

 

No. of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 5 
  • Assistants - 3
  • PO Employees - 2
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 10

 

1998 

Government begins to hint at moving away from benefits payment card via PO

Government departments involved 

Social Security, Trade & Industry and Treasury  

July – New Secretary of State for Social Security announced. New Trade & Industry Minister announced. 

December - New Trade & Industry Minister announced. 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 8 
  • Assistants - 7
  • PO Employees - 4
  • Other - 1
  • Total - 20

 

1999 

Full roll out of Horizon Legacy begins. 17,000 post offices to have new computer system and around 60,000 individuals trained. Aim is to roll out programme to 300 post offices per week. Largest programme of its type in Europe 

Government announces Automated Credit Transfer (ACT), with the aim to remove the Benefit Book system and instead pay claimants their state benefits into an electronic account.  

June – Government announces the withdrawal of benefits payment card and that claimants will be required to receive their benefits via their bank accounts. Half of Post Office income derived from Government services. 

September – Trade and Industry Select Committee “blame the Benefits Agency for blighting the Horizon programme.” 

 

No of people prosecuted

  • Subpostmasters - 25 
  • Assistants - 20
  • PO Employees - 4
  • Other - 1
  • Total - 50

   

2000 

PO has 28m customers per week 

May - Minister for Competitiveness responsible for the Post Office attends NFSP Annual Conference in Eastbourne 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 25 
  • Assistants - 20
  • PO Employees - 12
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 57

 

2001 

June 2001 – Department for Social Security becomes Department for Work & Pensions 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 36 
  • Assistants - 29
  • PO Employees - 13
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 78

 

2002 

January – New Chair of Royal Mail Group Board announced  

April – New Chief Executive of PO announced 

May – New Secretary of State for Work & Pensions announced 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 27 
  • Assistants - 20
  • PO Employees - 9
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 56 

 

2003 

February – New Chief Executive of Royal Mail Group announced 

April - ACT begins. 

Urban Network Reinvention begins with over 3000 post offices closing 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 25 
  • Assistants - 8
  • PO Employees - 18
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 51

 

2004 

September – New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 18 
  • Assistants - 11
  • PO Employees - 7
  • Other - 2
  • Total - 38

 

 

2005 

May - New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced. New Trade & Industry Minister announced. 

November - New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced 

December –  Chief Executive of PO steps down 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 22 
  • Assistants - 11
  • PO Employees - 13
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 46

 

2006 

January – New Managing Director of PO announced. Government indicates that PO's contract for POca would not be renewed. 

May – New Trade & Industry Minister announced 

June – NFSP submit 4 million signatures to Downing Street and subpostmasters march on Westminster requesting Government changes its position on the removal of POca. At the time, this was recognised as the largest submission of its type. 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 35 
  • Assistants - 11
  • PO Employees - 5
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 51

 

2007 

Government announce £1.7bn investment in PO to restructure and Network Change is introduced with over 3000 post offices closing.  

June 2007 – New Chancellor of the Exchequer announced. New Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced. Department for Trade & Industry becomes Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. New Minister announced 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 20 
  • Assistants - 14
  • PO Employees - 6
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 40

 

2008 

January – Working Group set up for Horizon Online development. This included Government, PO, Fujitsu, CMA, CWU and NFSP. New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced 

October – New Minister for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform announced 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 22 
  • Assistants - 15
  • PO Employees - 8
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 45

 

2009 

March - Chair of the Royal Mail Group Board steps down 

June - New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced. New Minister for Postal Affairs announced. Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform becomes Department for Business Innovation and Skills. 

Justice for SubPostmasters Alliance launched  

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 45
  • Assistants - 20
  • PO Employees - 7
  • Other - 2
  • Total - 74

 

2010 

January – Chief Executive of Royal Mail Group steps down 

April – New Managing Director of PO announced 

May – General election. New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced. New Chancellor of the Exchequer announced. New Minister for Postal Affairs announced. New Minister for Business, Innovation & Skills announced. 

Roll out of Horizon Online begins  

New Chief Executive of Royal Mail Group including PO announced 

Government announce plans to sell off Royal Mail 

PO has weekly customer numbers of around 20m. 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 38
  • Assistants - 11
  • PO Employees - 5
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 54

  

2011 

Postal Services Act is introduced enabling the sell off of 90% of Royal Mail. PO will remain in state hands. 

July - New Chair of Post Office Board announced 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 38 
  • Assistants - 1
  • PO Employees - 6
  • Other - 3
  • Total - 48

  

2012 

February - New Minister for Postal Affairs announced 

April - PO separated from Royal Mail and retained in state ownership. 

Government announce Network Transformation programme of the network with a £1.34bn investment.  

Post Office set up Mediation Scheme and investigation with Second Sight 

September - New Minister for Postal Affairs announced 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 36
  • Assistants - 5
  • PO Employees - 5
  • Other - 1
  • Total - 47

  

2013 

July – Second Sight produce interim report 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 22 
  • Assistants - 2
  • PO Employees - 3
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 27

 

2014 

Government announces Network Transformation 2, with a further £640m investment into the network.  

 

No of people prosecuted

  • Subpostmasters - 0
  • Assistants - 0
  • PO Employees - 0
  • Other - 0
  • Total - 0

 

 2015 

February – BEIS Select Committee - Post Office Mediation scheme and Horizon IT system - https://old.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-innovation-and-skills/inquiries/parliament-2010/post-office-mediation/ 

March – Second Sight stepped down from their investigation by PO Government is prorogued. PO write to the Postal Affairs Minister detailing that it has “completed investigations into all the individual cases put forward for consideration in the Scheme. Furthermore, again they were pleased to confirm that no evidence has been found through these investigations of any system wide issues with Horizon. 

May – General Election. New Minister for Postal Affairs announced. New Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills announced. 

July –  Chair of Post Office Ltd Board steps down. New Chancellor of the Exchequer announced. 

August – Panorama programme “Trouble at the Post Office” is aired 

October – New Chair of the Post Office Board announced 

 

No of people prosecuted 

  • Subpostmasters - 2
  • Assistants - 1
  • PO Employees - 0
  • Other - 1
  • Total - 4

 

2016 

February - Process towards the Group Litigation Order begins 

March - New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced 

July – Department for Business, Innovation and Skills becomes Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and new Minister announced. New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced. New Minister for Postal Affairs announced. 

 

2017 

March -  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/group-litigation-orders#the-post-office-group-litigation 

June - New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced 

HNG-A Horizon system rolled out 

 

2018 

January - New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced. New Minister for Postal Affairs announced. 

July - New Minister for Postal Affairs announced 

September – Common Issues Court Case begins 

November - New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced  

 

2019 

February – Chief Executive Officer of Post Office Ltd steps down 

March Justice Fraser delivers his ruling on the “Common Issues”- https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/bates-ors-v-post-office-ltd-judgment-no-3-common-issues/ 

April – Post Office ask Justice Fraser to recuse himself - https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/bates-ors-v-post-office-ltd-judgment-no-4-recusal-application/ 

May – BEIS Select Committee inquiry into the Post Office network - https://old.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-energy-industrial-strategy/inquiries/parliament-2017/post-office-network-17-19/ 

July - New Chancellor of the Exchequer announced. New Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced. 

September – New Chief Executive Officer of Post Office Ltd announced. New Secretary for State for Work and Pensions announced 

December – General Election. Justice Fraser delivers his ruling on Horizon - https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/bates-ors-v-post-office-ltd-judgment-no-4-recusal-application/ 

December - PO settle out court and agree a £57.75m settlement with claimants. £46m goes on legal fees 

 

2020 

February - New Chancellor of the Exchequer announced. New Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced. New Minster for Postal Affairs announced. 

Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) begins to refer previous conviction cases for appeal - https://ccrc.gov.uk/news/ccrc-to-refer-39-post-office-cases-on-abuse-of-process-argument/ 

March – BEIS Select Committee – Post Office and Horizon inquiry - https://committees.parliament.uk/work/97/post-office-and-horizon/ 

March – Panorama Scandal at the Post Office aired on BBC 

May – Post Office launch Historical Shortfall Scheme with the objective of resolving past issues for current and former postmasters who believe they have experienced shortfalls related to previous versions of Horizon.  

June – CCRC reopened cases for a further 47 subpostmasters to Court of Appeal 

August – Historical Shortfall Scheme closes. To date, around 2500 Postmasters, Assistants and employees have applied. 

September – Government announce non-statutory Inquiry to establish a clear account of the implementation and failings of the system over its lifetime - https://www.postofficehorizoninquiry.org.uk/ 

December – Convictions overturned for wrongly prosecuted subpostmasters 

 

2021 

January - New Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced. 

January – The CCRC refers four more subpostmaster convictions to appeal 

April - Appeals Court overturn 39 previous convictions - https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/hamilton-others-v-post-office-limited/ 

May – Two  more subpostmasters have their cases overturned 

June – Government announce conversion of Inquiry to a statutory Inquiry. 

July – Government announce interim payments of up to £100,000 promptly to individuals whose criminal convictions relied on Horizon data and have been quashed, ahead of final compensation settlements being agreed with them. 

July – Ten subpostmasters have their convictions overturned 

October – First public hearing from the Inquiry 

November – Government announce extension of Post Office card accounts (POca) to November 2022. 

 

2022 

January – BEIS Select Committee hearing 

January – NFSP submission to the Inquiry 

January – new manager of HSS appointed by PO. 120 former colleagues who applied to the HSS after the closing date await hearing if they will be included 

February – Post Office announce Chair to stand down in the autumn  

February – Human impact hearings begin, with subpostmasters, Assistants and employees of Post Office Ltd telling their story - https://www.postofficehorizoninquiry.org.uk/hearings/human-impact-hearing-16-february-2022 

February – at least 33 victims of the Horizon scandal have died before seeing justice 

July - Inquiry Compensation Hearing

July - Six Postmasters have their convictions overturned, bringing the total number of overturned convictions via appeal to more than 80

Panorama Update

Last evening Panorama aired a further programme that highlighted the plight of our colleagues who were wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office. Watch HERE

 

What was clear from the programme was the level of secrecy deployed by the Post Office and its business suppliers concerning the reliability of the Horizon system. This level of secrecy extended to those investigating the cases under the mediation scheme between 2012 – 2015 which prohibited their investigations. Also, Panorama emphasised that the Court of Appeal found the Post Office had abused the criminal justice system.

 

The consequences for those colleagues prosecuted were severe and life-changing. Whether a Postmaster, an assistant, or an employee of Post Office Ltd, the loss of reputation was the same.

The NFSP believes that all such victims should have their reputations restored and all their losses, including consequential losses, refunded without delay. 

 

The NFSP has and continues to engage with the ongoing Independent Inquiry led by Sir Wyn Williams so that we can finally understand what went wrong and ensure that the lessons learned are enacted so that nothing like this can happen again. 

Categories: Horizon