UK Post Office Horizon payment system scandal

Released: 1999

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A UK High Court judge has ruled (pdf) the IT system used by the country's Post Office is likely to have resulted in a miscarriage of justice that has seen sub-postmasters accused, convicted and imprisoned on charges of theft, false accounting, and fraud.

Developed by Fujitsu and introduced in 1999, the Horizon system was described by Judge Peter Fraser as not 'remotely robust', containing 'bugs, errors and defects', and constituting a 'material risk' that shortfalls in branch accounts were caused by the system. 

Plagued by poor transparency by the Post Office, Fujitsu and their advisors, the long-running saga has involved the obfuscation, blocking and delayal of mediation and litigation procedures, amongst other legal and reputational defensive tactics.

The latest ruling sees the Post Office agreeing to settle with 555 claimants, having accepted that it had previously 'got things wrong in [its] dealings with a number of postmasters'. It is to pay £58m in damages.

In February 2020, the UK government announced it would hold an official independent inquiry into the scandal, upgraded in June 2021 to a public inquiry. In September 2023, the government offered Post Office workers with wrongful convictions for theft and false accounting GBP 600,000 each in compensation.

Operator: Post Office
Developer: Fujitsu/ICL

Country: UK

Sector: Govt - retail

Purpose: Make benefits payments; Reduce fraud

Technology: Database

Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Ethics; Employment - jobs, pay
Transparency: Governance; Legal - mediation, litigation