As the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry rumbles on missed letters are leading to new misery for branch managers as 170 are set to miss out on their compensation under The Historic Shortfall Scheme (HSS).
Branch managers are entitled to compensation as they were accused of stealing from the Post Office and required to pay apparent shortfalls during computer errors during the Horizon IT Scandal.
Post Office IT Scandal Background
The scandal arose from the installation of the “Horizon” computer system in Post Offices around the country which started in 1999. Within weeks it was reported that the system was reporting unexplained imbalances in accounts. The Post Office maintained that these imbalances were not due to the computer system but rather due to errors by the users.
The Post Office would demand the settling of these imbalances leaving SPMs out of pocket, where they refused the Post Office would prosecute. Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 sub-postmasters were wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting due to a flaw in a computer system Horizon.
Three months in 2020
The 170 Branch Managers now missing out on compensation have applied late to the HSS. They were given only three months to apply to the scheme in 2020 during the lockdown. Campaigners then pressured the Post Office to keep applications open for a further 15 weeks.
Campaigners for the National Federation of SubPostmasters are now trying to get the scheme reopened and left open indefinitely, the Post Office however is resistant stating that they are reliant on Government funding for the payouts. It is writing to the 170 known claimants to gather further information.
“We are in no doubt about the human costs of the Horizon scandal and it is our priority to ensure there is appropriate, meaningful compensation for victims.” A Post Office spokesperson said.
The rolling nature of this “computer says no” scandal beggars belief. The feeling that real people are being dictated to by machines is tempting but really this can happen to anyone in a system where many people without leverage interact with a single institution with all the power.
In much of our economy we set up relationships like this because they are “efficient” when really we mean that they are cheap. It is only when things go really wrong that we are drawn to the stories of how our systems are really working.
This story could easily be seen in as an example of “technology gone wrong”, as per social media algorithms and data breaches. However it more closely resembles a repeated mistake in a system no one was checking. With that in mind it recalls the Tesco horsemeat scandal or the tragedy of negligent care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Hospital Trust.
As the world becomes more complex and we automate larger and larger systems it is essential that a human checks these systems before something awful happens.
Photo Credit: Jim Osley