Sir Wyn Williams delivers compensation Progress Update
The Chair of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry has stressed the need for speed and independence as he gives his assessment of the Government's and the Post Office’s record so far on compensation.
In a Progress Update, published today, Sir Wyn Williams sets out a number of issues around the three schemes that have been established to compensate sub-postmasters impacted by failings surrounding the Horizon system: the Historical Shortfall Scheme (HSS), the Overturned Historic Convictions Scheme and the Group Litigation Scheme, announced earlier this year.
In his Update, the Chair accepts that both the Post Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have acknowledged and apologised for delays which have occurred in administering the HSS. He hopes that they will be able to meet the “ambitious” targets they have set to make 95-100% of offers by the end of 2022.
However, the Update says that the delay in determining whether late applications to the HSS should be rejected or accepted is “wholly unacceptable and, in my view, remains largely unexplained”. It also points out that no part of the initial application form made any specific reference to any time limit.
On the more recently announced Group Litigation Scheme, Sir Wyn stresses it is vital that discussions and negotiations are undertaken within weeks, not months, noting that the announcement of further compensation payments for the Group Litigation claimants came nearly 5 months ago.
The Chair also highlights a loophole which means Group Litigation claimants who were acquitted are set to receive substantially smaller interim payments. The Update says that these people should receive interim payments which reflect the trauma of prosecution that they experienced, and that this should be resolved as soon as is reasonably practicable.
The Progress Update also calls for the HSS to be amended to make express provision for interim payments in cases where the personal circumstances of the applicant justify such a payment or when portions of the total amount (specific heads of loss) have been agreed and can be paid over.
Despite the relative speed with which interim payments have been made under the Overturned Historic Convictions Scheme, the Chair expresses concern about the Post Office’s decision-making around the refusal of interim payments to 3 applicants: Mrs Adedayo, Mr Kalia and Mr Patel.
Sir Wyn strongly disagrees with the Post Office being the final arbiter for interim payments under the Overturned Historic Convictions Scheme, and says that an independent person or panel should be appointed to determine such claims, as well as any disputes around final payments. On the HSS, the Update expresses the Chair’s concern at Post Office being the final arbiter as to whether a late application is accepted or rejected.
Sir Wyn notes in his Update that legal costs are being covered under the Overturned Historic Convictions Scheme and the Group Litigation Scheme. The Chair calls for the payment of reasonable legal fees in the remainder of all cases where HSS offers are rejected and says that appropriate legal assistance and advice in respect of most of the higher value claims yet to be determined is likely to be essential. He notes that “the Post Office will, no doubt, be represented by very experienced lawyers” and that there should be “reasonable equality of arms”.
“Full and fair”
The Chair’s Update welcomes the commitment by the Post Office to reaching a full and fair settlement, even if that means departing from established legal principles. He underlines that this means “normal negotiating tactics often found in hard fought litigation in the courts should have no place in the administration of any of the schemes for compensation”.
The Update adds that whether or not these goals have been met will be the subject of further investigations in Phase 5 of the Inquiry, which will look at the issue of redress, including access to justice, responding to the scandal and compensation schemes.
Further issues are assessed in the full Progress Update. Today’s publication is aimed at expediting progress; Sir Wyn will follow closely the extent to which his views are acted upon and particularly whether they are acted upon promptly.
If it becomes clear in the coming weeks that progress is too slow, particularly in finalising or making payments under the Group Litigation Scheme, the Chair will likely deliver an interim report under s24(3) of the Inquiries Act 2005 containing specific recommendations. He may also conclude at that point that he should convene a hearing at short notice.
Notes to editors:
The Progress Update reflects on written submissions the Chair has received as well as oral submissions made at hearings he convened on 6 and 13 July 2022.
The term sub-postmaster is used in the Update to mean sub-postmasters, sub-postmistresses, their managers and assistants and any person employed by the Post Office or its predecessor companies who claim to have suffered loss by reason of the Horizon IT System unless the context dictates otherwise.