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Post Office workers wrongfully convicted because of a faulty IT system have been offered £600,000 each in compensation by the UK government, as officials seek to draw a partial line under the long-running scandal.
More than 700 people were wrongly prosecuted for theft between 2000 and 2014 owing to flaws in the state-owned Post Office’s Horizon computer system. To date, 86 convictions have been overturned.
The Department for Business and Trade on Monday said postmasters whose convictions had been overturned would be offered the lump sum, adding that they would not have to accept it if they wished to continue current compensation processes.
Kevin Hollinrake, Post Office minister, said the announcement was “about righting a wrong and providing some form of relief to those wrongfully caught up in this scandal”.
“The government remains committed to seeing this through to the end until it is resolved and ensuring this cannot ever happen again,” he added.
But some MPs and peers said the offer fell short of fixing the issue for many, with few of those affected eligible.
“It is not a solution to the fundamental problem of injustice, delay and cost,” said Lord James Arbuthnot, a Conservative peer and member of the government’s independent advisory board on Post Office compensation.
“I rather doubt that the sum is large enough to attract many takers, but it’s a small, useful step,” he added.
Ministers have set aside a total of £1bn in compensation under various schemes. More than £120mn has been paid out to 2,600 individuals affected by the Horizon scandal, according to the Post Office.
In July, the head of a public inquiry into the Horizon scandal warned victims faced serious delays to funds owing to a “patchwork quilt of compensation schemes”. Monday’s offer is an attempt to streamline the process.
Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham and a member of the independent advisory board, said many affected postmasters were still too traumatised to come forward, and that this posed a key barrier to justice.
Monday’s announcement applied to those who had been wrongfully convicted, while others who faced bankruptcy and reputational damage were eligible for compensation under separate schemes.
Some 555 postmasters reached a settlement with the Post Office following a High Court ruling in 2019 which helped expose the scandal, but much of the compensation was used to cover legal costs.
In March, the government launched one scheme to compensate these individuals.
The Post Office said Monday’s offer was optional and that affected postmasters should still seek independent legal and professional advice.