Government reveals its own slow progress in compensating Post Office scandal victims

According to government figures, only 11 members of the over 500-strong Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) campaign group have received full compensation, four years after their huge High Court victory that proved the Post Office computer system was responsible for unexplained accounting shortfalls they were blamed and punished for.

Thousands of lives were impacted and destroyed, with many subpostmasters wrongfully convicted of theft and fraud and sent to prison, and many more made bankrupt.

The government said it has now agreed final settlements with another 10 from the group.

The JFSA, comprising about 555 former subpostmasters and Post Office branch staff, has its own compensation scheme, which was set up after the government initially refused to pay members damages beyond what they received after their High Court group litigation order (GLO) victory. In December 2019, they were awarded £58m, but after the costs of bringing the court action they were left with just £11m to share.

In total, £27m in interim payments and 11 final payments has been made to the GLO group, the government said.

Former subpostmaster Alan Bates established the JFSA in 2009, soon after an investigation by Computer Weekly revealed that multiple subpostmasters were having problems.

Following the latest government figures being published, he told Computer Weekly that the government was taking “far too long” and missing its own targets.

“It is all smoke and mirrors,” he said. “They say 11 have received full compensation, but these are just the easy ones to sort out, the low-hanging fruit. The government is also failing to hit its promise of making an offer within 40 days of a claim. They keep extending the deadlines, but you can’t extend people’s lives.”

The GLO claimants (JFSA members) were originally excluded from the Post Office compensation scheme set up as a result of their court victory, but a separate compensation scheme was eventually announced in March 2022, following another hard-fought campaign resulting in a government U-turn. The scheme’s goal is to return victims to the financial position they would have been in now had the scandal not happened.

In 2009, a Computer Weekly investigation first revealed that subpostmasters were being blamed for unexplained accounting shortfalls, which they believed to be caused by software errors.

Many of the subpostmasters lost their livelihoods and many their liberty after being held responsible for unexplained accounting shortfalls caused by computer errors. The problems began just after the roll-out of the Post Office’s Horizon retail and accounting system in 2000.

Almost 24 years later, many victims are still suffering extreme financial hardship, yet compensation payments are moving at a snail’s pace.

The government has made promise after promise to speed things up, yet only a small number of JFSA members have received full compensation so far.

Speaking in the House of Commons in December 2022, Grant Shapps, then secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, said: “I hope that compensation will start to flow before the summer and that most cases can be resolved before the end of 2023.”

Furthermore, in May 2021, almost two-and-a-half years ago, then-minister Paul Scully – who was accompanied by Boris Johnson, at the time prime minister – promised members of the group litigation order “fair and speedy” pay-outs during a Zoom meeting with three affected former subpostmasters.

The GLO compensation scheme has a deadline of 7 August 2024, but due to slow progress, the government has introduced its Post Office Compensation Bill to the House of Commons, to make it possible to pay compensation after this date.

There is a separate compensation scheme for subpostmasters who were wrongly convicted of crimes, as well as a scheme, known as the Horizon Shortfall Scheme, which was set up as part of the settlement between the Post Office and the JFSA in the GLO at the end of 2019. The government said a total of £138m has been paid to over 2,700 claimants across all three schemes.

Minister for postal affairs Kevin Hollinrake said: “Today’s new data on Post Office compensation is a step in the right direction to making sure every postmaster gets the justice and compensation that they have waited too long for. 

“It is important that everyone knows the truth about what happened, and that steps are being taken to right the wrongs of the past. Truth and accountability are one part of providing justice, and the other part is compensation.” 


Leave a Comment