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Mediator enters Post Office accountancy IT argument

AN INDEPENDENT MEDIATION SCHEME for Post Office staff members who say they were wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting as a result of IT glitches, is to be introduced.

Allegations the organisation’s Horizon software was causing accounting errors first emerged in October 2009 when 30 sub-postmasters came forward with complaints about the system. They were informed that collectively they are owed £430,000 to the Post Office.

The inconsistencies have caused several sub-postmasters to be accused of false accounting, and in some cases, they have faced prison as a result. Others have had to make up the shortfalls following prosecutions.

The Post Office had maintained the issues could not have been caused by its Horizon accounting software, which was introduced by the organisation nationwide in 2000.

Despite that contention, an independent review was launched in January, conducted by forensic accounting firm Second Sight. In its interim report it found “some combinations of events can trigger situations where problems occur”, although no evidence of system-wide problems were found.

However, Second Sight is aware of two incidents where bugs in the software gave rise to 76 branches being affected by incorrect balances or transactions, which took some time to identify and correct.

In response, the Post Office has committed to create the independent mediation scheme for sub-postmasters to directly approach the Post Office to address their concerns.

According to staff action group Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JSFA), the scheme runs until 18 November.

The Post Office, JSFA, and Second Sight have formed a working group to collaboratively develop and monitor this scheme which is available to current and former subpostmasters from 27 August 2013.

Post Office head of partnerships Angela van den Bogerd said: “The independent mediation scheme we are announcing today will provide an effective way to assess and address any outstanding cases where subpostmasters feel they have been unfairly treated.

“Sub-postmasters are the lifeblood of our business and we take their concerns extremely seriously. We hope the package of measures we are announcing will demonstrate our commitment to working closely with them to further improve our network.”

The JSFA is now taking applications to enter into the mediation process via its website.

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