The government has announced a new fixed sum payment for victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal in an effort to provide quicker compensation.
An award of £600,000 is on offer to the postmasters who have had their convictions overturned after faulty Horizon software made it appear they were stealing, as money looked to be missing.
Anyone who has proven they were falsely imprisoned as part of the scandal can take the payment instead of going through the full assessment of their loss. The only requirement is for the victim to prove they had their conviction overturned.
An inquiry into the scandal began last year and affected postmasters have been told to apply for compensation.
But that process “can take time because these things are complicated”, business minister Kevin Hollinrake said in the Commons on Monday.
Mr Hollinrake added this is “a much quicker way to compensation”.
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“If you think your claim is worth more than £600,000 then you can still go through the normal route.
“The good thing about this is because some people will inevitably take this route, it will take more people out of the queue so the full assessment will take less time as well. It’s a really win-win on every level for people who have suffered.”
Accepting the offer will avoid “months” of assessments and engaging lawyers, Mr Hollinrake said. Instead, it will be “a quick and easy process”.
How long the offer is open for has yet to be worked out by the government.
Mr Hollinrake was asked, by Sarah Jones, shadow minister for industry and decarbonisation, if compensation would be higher if victims go through the full scheme.
No sum would be enough for what the prosecuted staff went through, Mr Hollinrake said. “If you’ve suffered, if you’ve spent time in jail, if you lost your house, if your marriage has failed, all those things – if those things have happened to you, no amount of money will ever be enough.”
Many postmasters have yet to seek an overturning of their conviction. More than 700 postmasters, who managed post offices, were wrongly prosecuted in one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice in UK history.
Just 86 postmasters have had their convictions overturned, though more are being encouraged to come forward.
An interim report from the chair of the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams, in July set out recommendations on the three schemes established by the Post Office and the government to compensate postmasters.
Sir Wyn said the time period for making payments to postmasters who sued the Post Office – August next year – will “not be achieved” as 550 claims would have to be heard within 20 months.