The Post Office has agreed to pay out almost £58 million to settle a long-running dispute with postal staff over errors in Fujitsu’s Horizon IT system used to manage local post office finances since 1999 — and still used in over 11,000 branches.
A group of 550 sub-postmasters (who run Post Office franchises across the UK) had sued for compensation after being wrongly accused of taking money; among other documented errors, the Horizon IT system would not let some users open the next day’s business without signing off incorrect amounts of money in a balance period.
Numerous convictions are being reviewed as a result of the case. The claimants were half way through four trials when the Post Office sought mediation. It’s not clear yet how much individual postmasters and mistresses will receive.
The Horizon IT project was set up by Fujitsu, which has provided a Service Desk to support the Post Office’s IT systems since 1996. In 2006 it was awarded a ten year contract, worth over £300 million, to support the Post Office’s “EPOS systems, peripherals and associated infrastructure”, including any software issues.
The system was having issues as recently as August 2019, with screens freezing and other software bugs. Computer Business Review has contacted the company for comment.
Public sector IT projects remain notorious for going over-budget and under-delivering. The Public Accounts Committee recently highlighted failures of the Home Office’s Disclosure and Barring Service IT modernisation, for example, which is four years overdue and £229 million over its original budget.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was contracted by the Home Office to design, build and run a new IT system that would modernise its services in 2012. Four years after that contract was awarded, the DBS was still stuck using paper-based systems. PAC described that project as a “masterclass in incompetence”.
The government has largely washed its hands of involvement in the Post Office case, with the Minister for Postal Services, Kelly Tolhurst telling a local MP seeking answers for one litigant in August 2019 that “while publicly owned, Post Office Limited operates as an independent, commercial business and the matters encompassed by this litigation fall under its operational responsibility. However I would like to reassure you that I take this matter very seriously and I am monitoring it closely….
“I believe that the courts are the right place to hear and resolve what are long-standing issues between some Postmasters and the Post Office Limited so that postmasters with claims can obtain a remedy if the court finds there is validity to those claims.”