MPs blast Post Office over accounting software mediation

MPs HAVE SLAMMED the Post Office for the way it dealt with claims that its much-maligned IT system led to over 150 sub-postmasters being wrongly accused of fraud and false accounting.

Over 140 MPs have now withdrawn their support for Post Office’s mediation scheme, which was set up to address the mounting claims.

Sub-postmasters blame problems with the Post Office’s Horizon accounting software that led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

There are around 11,500 sub-postmasters who run smaller post offices in the UK, none of whom are directly employed by the Post Office. But they must pay back any shortfalls. This has led to prison terms for some, while others have lost their homes or been bankrupted.

The Post Office has consistently 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 2013, 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, last year Second Sight said it was 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 committed to create the independent mediation scheme for sub-postmasters to directly approach the Post Office to address their concerns.

To date, 144 MPs say they have been contacted by sub-postmasters in their constituency.

The politician spearheading their cause, James Arbuthnot, sent a letter to the Post Office this week, saying it had rejected 90% of all mediation applications.

“The scheme was set up to help our constituents seek redress and to maintain the Post Office’s good reputation,” he said. “It is doing neither.

“It has ended up mired in legal wrangling, with the Post Office objecting to most of the cases even going into the mediation that the scheme was designed to provide.”

A Post Office spokseman said: “It is regrettable and surprising that some MPs have said they no longer support the scheme. We take these issues very seriously and have done since setting up a review more than two years ago.”

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