We receive a large number of requests for information about the Horizon IT Scandal. This FAQ addresses the most common questions.
Last updated: 20 July 2023
Criminal prosecutions and appeals
Does Post Office still have the power to bring private prosecutions?
Post Office has not undertaken any private prosecutions related to Horizon since 2015 and has no intention of doing so. In cases of suspected criminal activity, evidence is referred to the relevant law enforcement agency.
Post Office has no special authority to bring private prosecutions. The right to bring a private criminal prosecution is available to both companies and individuals in England and Wales as a result of section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.
When did Post Office start and stop prosecutions related to Horizon?
Post Office has not undertaken private prosecutions related to Horizon since 2015.
The Horizon system was first introduced from 1999. Prosecutions in which Horizon evidence may have featured took place between 1999 and 2015.
Were there also prosecutions in Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service (COPFS) is responsible for prosecutions in Scotland and undertook all prosecutions of Post Office cases. In Northern Ireland, Post Office cases were undertaken by its principal prosecution authority, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPSNI).
Post Office has proactively shared the data it holds on prosecutions which appear to have been brought by other prosecutors with the relevant bodies: the Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland (PPSNI), the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service (COPFS), the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who have prosecuted cases themselves as well as, since 2012, on behalf of the DWP. Post Office continues to work with these bodies to ensure as much assistance as possible is provided.
Have any cases prosecuted by bodies other than Post Office been appealed?
Yes. In addition to the appeals in which Post Office was the prosecutor, there have been six appeals to date in which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was the Respondent, not Post Office. One of these was conceded and the conviction overturned and five were opposed, with the safety of the convictions upheld by the Court of Appeal in two cases and the appeals abandoned in the remaining three.
In Northern Ireland, two convictions have been overturned in appeals in which the Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland (PPSNI) was the Respondent.
In Scotland, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) announced on 8 November 2022 that they had referred six cases to the High Court of Justiciary for determination and two convictions have been overturned as at 29 September 2023.
How many prosecutions and convictions were there?
Post Office has currently identified a total of 700 convictions in cases it prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 in which Horizon evidence may have featured.
Post Office have currently identified 283 cases which potentially featured Horizon evidence and which were prosecuted during the relevant time (1999 – 2015) by other bodies, not Post Office.
Post Office has proactively shared the data it holds on these prosecutions with the relevant bodies: the Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland (PPSNI), the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service (COPFS) in Scotland, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who have prosecuted cases themselves as well as, since 2012, on behalf of the DWP. Post Office continues to work with these bodies to ensure as much assistance as possible is provided.
Will Post Office provide compensation to people who were prosecuted by other bodies, not Post Office, if their convictions are overturned?
All people whose convictions are overturned, where the reliability of Horizon evidence was essential to their prosecution, can seek compensation from Post Office and apply for an Interim Payment. Final compensation is determined on a case by case basis.
There is more information about compensation here.
Is the Post Office entitled to take any money back from an interim payment made ahead of further or final compensation settlement offers?
No. We understand that some people had concerns about this. We have reassured all recipients of interim payments and their legal representatives that Post Office would not ask for this money to be returned.
How is Post Office contacting people with convictions so that they can appeal?
We have contacted the majority of people with relevant convictions in cases prosecuted by Post Office between 1999 and 2015, although there remain a very small number of people that we are still unable to trace despite continuing strenuous efforts to do so. More detail about Post Office’s work to assist people with convictions can be found here.
We understand that there may be people who would prefer to leave the past behind them, that revisiting a painful part of their life is incredibly difficult and they may not want to respond to Post Office. But no unsafe conviction should be missed. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body that investigates potential miscarriages of justice, therefore agreed to our proposal that they would additionally contact people who had not yet responded to Post Office and they have been doing so. More details about this can be found on the CCRC website here.
In addition Post Office has put in place a package of support through Citizens Advice for people who may wish to consider appeal. This service aims to provide preliminary information about the appeals process and both practical and emotional support which may be available.
Why is Post Office opposing some appeal cases?
Post Office considers each appeal very carefully, applying the Court of Appeal judgments in Horizon appeals, but it is of course the jurisdiction of the Courts to determine the safety of convictions in each case, irrespective of Post Office’s position.
The Court of Appeal has commented positively on the way in which Post Office has approached appeals.
You can find more information on the progress of appeals here.
The Court of Appeal judgments to date are:
Why are public funds being used to compensate postmasters?
It is a priority for us to provide full, fair and final compensation as quickly as possible and we have made substantial progress. Post Office does not have the financial resources to pay meaningful compensation and we welcome funding support from Government to help enable this.
Has the Horizon Scandal made Post Office insolvent?
No. Government, our shareholder, is providing funding support for compensation payments. Details of Post Office’s financial position can be found in our Report and Accounts.
When will people be compensated?
Compensation offers have been made to around 2,500 Postmasters, the vast majority of which are already agreed and paid. We are continuing to make offers and compensation payments every week. Postmasters who do not have criminal convictions are able to apply to the Horizon Shortfall Scheme for compensation. You can see progress on compensation payments here.
Post Office is administering two main compensation routes.
Separately, the Government is administering an ex-gratia scheme to provide additional compensation to people who were part of the Group Litigation settlement in 2019. This scheme for opened for claims in March 2023 and the latest information can be found on the Government website here: Compensation scheme for Group Litigation Order case postmasters - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Why has the name of the Historical Shortfall Scheme changed to Horizon Shortfall Scheme?
Following feedback received, the name of the Scheme changed on 7 July 2023 to Horizon Shortfall Scheme. It is the same Scheme and there are no other changes. Therefore, current or former applicants do not need to do anything further, or re-apply.
The feedback received was that the word ‘historical’, included in the name of the previous Scheme, was considered offensive to some Postmasters because the impact of the Horizon Scandal has continued to affect their lives and was very much not historical. No offence was ever intended and the word historical was used solely to clarify that the Scheme offers redress for past shortfalls, related to previous versions of Horizon (pre-2017). Post Office is sorry for any offence caused.
How much is the average compensation payment in the Horizon Shortfall Scheme?
There is no pre-defined amount for individual compensation payments as these are assessed by the Scheme’s independent advisory panel who recommend fair outcomes for claims.
Details of payments made to date can be found here but individual cases vary significantly in amounts claimed and their complexity and therefore the published figures cannot be interpreted as an indicator of future payments or the overall potential cost of the scheme. More straightforward claims of lower amounts have naturally generally been completed more quickly through the Scheme.
Has the cost of establishing and running the Horizon Shortfall Scheme affected compensation amounts?
No. The costs of establishing and running the scheme have no impact on individual compensation payments as there is an independent advisory panel assessing claims. There is no pre-defined amount for individual compensation payments.
How did Post Office let postmasters know they could claim compensation through the Horizon Shortfall Scheme?
When the Scheme opened, individual letters were sent to over 7,000 current postmasters and nearly 20,000 former postmasters. A paid-for media campaign was also undertaken with extensive press advertising, including a total of two weeks of advertising in four national papers and four weeks in large regional daily and weekly local papers.
Are there ‘caps’ on losses compensated through the Horizon Shortfall Scheme?
No. Post Office is acutely aware of the severity of the impacts on postmasters’ lives caused by our past failings, which is why we are making sure each case is carefully considered by an independent advisory panel, sensitive to the individual’s circumstances. There is no exhaustive list of the types of individual losses being compensated through the Scheme; nor are there ‘caps’ on amounts.
Unlike in civil litigation, the Scheme’s independent advisory panel assessing applications is not limited to the confines of legal principles and evidence as a court would be. The panel, drawn from the relevant areas of law, retail and forensic accountancy, assesses individual claims and uses a fairness discretion to take into account all matters they consider will produce a fair result in all the circumstances, including the testimony of individual postmasters of their experiences. As the scheme has progressed, we have listened, responded to feedback and we will continue to ensure consistency and fairness for applicants.
Why does Post Office not provide legal costs for claimants until they receive compensation offers from the Scheme?
Post Office provides the costs of independent legal advice once claimants receive their offers because it is at that point that they receive the recommendation of the Scheme’s Independent Advisory Panel and information about how this was decided. Claimants who are unhappy with their offer can rightly dispute it, with independent legal advice continuing to be reimbursed by Post Office and an interim payment of up to 80% of the proposed settlement. The dispute process also provides for free, independent mediation.
What is the position on tax of compensation provided by the Scheme?
Post Office welcomes the announcement by Government on 19 June 2023 that enables us to address tax treatment of compensation for postmasters in the Scheme. Government announced that it would fund top-up payments to ensure compensation received is not unduly reduced by tax.
The tax top-up letters started to be sent to Postmasters in the Scheme on 20 October 2023 and there will updates on progress over the coming weeks on the Scheme website.
Why is it taking so long for people to receive compensation?
Across Post Office’s compensation arrangements compensation offers have been made to around 2500 Postmasters, the majority of which are already agreed and paid.
What is Post Office’s response to the interim report on compensation by the Inquiry Chair, Sir Wyn Williams (18 July 2023)?
We welcome Sir Wyn’s interim report. We share his view that victims of the Horizon scandal must be provided with full compensation, fairly and consistently. Post Office has made substantial progress across the compensation arrangements it is administering - the majority of claims, following offers of more than £129m to around 2,500 postmasters, are already agreed and paid. Interim payments continue to be made in cases not yet resolved.
Separately, the Government is administering a compensation scheme to provide additional compensation to around 500 postmasters who were part of Group Litigation settlement in 2019 but whose compensation from that settlement was reduced by legal costs. The scheme (GLO Scheme) opened for claims in March 2023. Details are on the Government website here: Compensation scheme for Group Litigation Order case postmasters - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
In its report and news release, key areas identified by the Inquiry involve matters such as insolvency law, tax, and Treasury funding legislation. These are for Government to consider.
We will work with Government with the continued shared aim of providing compensation is full and fair which, as the Inquiry report noted, has been our stated commitment from the outset.
Horizon & Inquiry
Is Horizon still being used?
Yes. There have been several versions of Horizon since its introduction in 1999 and the current version of the system, introduced from 2017, was found in the group litigation to be robust, relative to comparable systems. But we are not complacent about that and are continuing to work, together with our postmasters, to make improvements.
Ultimately, as part of the transformation of the Post Office, we will be moving away from Horizon to a new IT cloud-based system that will be more user-friendly and easier to adapt for new products and services.
Have any customers been impacted by the past Horizon issues?
The issues involved in the litigation about Horizon related to potential impacts on postmasters’ branch accounting. Our services to customers were not affected.
What are you doing to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
We have undertaken a programme of wholesale reform. We have undertaken, together with postmasters, vital work to improve our culture, practices and operating procedures throughout every part of the business.
We have increased postmasters’ remuneration and transformed the support we provide. There are now two serving postmasters who are Non-Executive Directors to the Post Office Board to ensure that decisions taken at the very top of the organisation are grounded in reality for postmasters. We also run hundreds of events every year to hear directly from postmasters.
Why hasn’t anyone at Post Office been held to account for the Horizon Scandal?
There is a public Inquiry, led by a Judge, Sir Wyn Williams, that is examining the events of the past and we are fully engaging with this important work. It is for Sir Wyn to independently provide his Inquiry’s conclusions regarding 'what went wrong' and 'why' during the years following the introduction of the original version of Horizon in 1999.
Why have there been some issues with disclosure of documents?
Post Office takes its legal obligations of disclosure extremely seriously and appointed expert leading law firms together with an internal team dedicated to our work assisting the Inquiry.
- A broad waiver of privilege on documentation has been provided to the Inquiry over a very substantial volume of relevant material from prior to 26 February 2020.
- 122,500 documents have been disclosed (as of 4 July 2023)
- Disclosure involves documentation spanning a period of more than two decades, with searches of around 230 physical locations and third-party sites, in addition to hundreds of digital repositories and mailboxes; more than 54 million documents in total.
The scale of this exercise has created challenges and we have taken urgent steps to address issues that have arisen.
Post Office has conveyed sincere apologies to the Inquiry and the other Core Participants.
The Inquiry heard evidence about racism in the ICL / Fujitsu Horizon support centre – what is your reaction?
The evidence heard about past events was extremely shocking and the racist behaviour described was as unacceptable then as it would be today. Post Office does not tolerate racism in any form.