Post Office scandal: £1bn set aside to fund compensation for victims - as govt vows to pursue Fujitsu if fault found

The government has already set aside £1bn of compensation to pay out to victims of the Post Office scandal - and will pursue the manufacturer of the Horizon IT system if an inquiry finds it is to blame.

Downing Street confirmed today that it expects compensation to sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses to run to ten figures. Government data show the money was set aside in 2021.

However, it is only with the law announced yesterday and the subsequent mass exonerations of those impacted by the faulty software and falsely accused of theft that en masse payouts are likely to begin.

Two ministers have said the government will pursue Fujitsu, the manufacturer behind the Horizon system, to help pay for the compensation - if the independent inquiry into the scandal finds the firm is at fault.

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While the government said sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses would be eligible for a £75,000 upfront payment with the new law, Number 10 expects only a third will take it.

Rishi Sunak's spokesman said: "It's worth emphasising that this is an upfront offer.

"We would estimate that around a third of individuals would take that.

"For those that are more significantly impacted, perhaps they had to use significantly more of their life savings or whatever it might be, they are able to seek a higher offer. And our aim is to resolve that by the summer."

The official added: "We recognise that there will be a significant number for whom £75,000 is not sufficient. That's entirely understandable."

Appeals would be reviewed by an independent panel, in which the Post Office had no involvement.

A search of subsidies handed out by the government shows three payments to the Post Office for either "historical matters compensation" or "historical shortfall scheme".

The first, made in March 2021, is worth £233m, followed by £94.4m in July 2021 and £686.6m in December 2021.

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Sub-postmasters used as 'guinea pigs'

'Whoever is at fault should contribute'

Speaking yesterday, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said Fujitsu - the company which developed Horizon - should be pursued for monetary damages if it is found to be at fault.

The government is waiting for the outcome of an independent inquiry before taking its next steps.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho told Sky News this morning: "Well, I'd like to see whoever is at fault contribute.

"And that's exactly why we set up an independent inquiry that will report back, and once we've got clear evidence on who's accountable, I think it's really important that they contribute."

Downing Street did not rule out further legislation being brought forward in the future.

Mr Sunak's spokesperson added: "I can't predict how the government would act following the conclusion of the inquiry.

"We already have powers in place to allocate the compensation payments, which we've already legislated for."

He added: "The justice secretary, I think, yesterday said that he is looking at the issue of private prosecutions in the round."

Currently, anyone - individual or company - can privately prosecute anyone else in the UK, provided they can afford the costs.

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A spokesperson for Fujitsu said: "The current Post Office Horizon IT statutory Inquiry is examining complex events stretching back over 20 years to understand who knew what, when, and what they did with that knowledge.

"The inquiry has reinforced the devastating impact on postmasters' lives and that of their families, and Fujitsu has apologised for its role in their suffering.

"Fujitsu is fully committed to supporting the Inquiry in order to understand what happened and to learn from it. Out of respect for the Inquiry process, it would be inappropriate for Fujitsu to comment further at this time."