Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 724: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2022

Written Statements

Wednesday 7 December 2022

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Post Office Horizon Scandal: Compensation

The Post Office Horizon scandal, which began over 20 years ago, has had a devastating impact on the lives of many postmasters. Starting in the late 1990s, the Post Office began installing Horizon accounting software, but faults in the software led to shortfalls in branches’ accounts. The Post Office demanded sub-postmasters cover the shortfalls, and in many cases wrongfully prosecuted them between 1999 and 2015 for false accounting or theft.

The High Court group litigation order case against the Post Office brought by 555 postmasters exposed the Horizon IT scandal, which had seen many postmasters forced to “repay” to Post Office sums that they had never received. In March 2022, the then Chancellor announced that further funding would be made available to ensure that members of the group litigation order will receive similar levels of compensation to that which is available to their non-group litigation order peers.

On 2 September my predecessor wrote to all postmasters in the group litigation order group to ask for their views about whether BEIS or the Post Office should deliver the compensation scheme, and whether it should be organised along the lines of the historical shortfall scheme or based on an alternative dispute resolution approach. There was very strong support for the alternative dispute resolution scheme, to be delivered by BEIS. Today I am announcing that this is the route that we will follow.

The informal consultation also requested views on other issues related to the scheme. Unsurprisingly, there was considerable concern among postmasters that the scheme should be subject to properly independent input. In the light of this, we have decided to create an independent advisory board chaired by Professor Chris Hodges, an expert in alternative dispute resolution. The membership of that board will include Lord Arbuthnot and the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who are recognised by colleagues across Parliament for many years of outstanding campaigning for the wronged postmasters. The advisory board will be supported by a BEIS secretariat.

Since the consultation closed a great deal of work has been done to develop the details of the scheme, drawing on the detailed comments made in response to the consultation. I am today writing to members of the group litigation order with further information about how the scheme will work.

We are now asking claimants to prepare preliminary information about their claims. In parallel, we are working to engage alternative dispute resolution specialists and lawyers to deliver it. Those experts should be on board in early spring, and at that point full claims will be submitted. I hope that compensation will start to flow before the summer, and that most cases can be resolved before the end of 2023.

We have already announced that we will meet postmasters’ reasonable legal costs in claiming under the scheme. To enable lawyers to get to work on preparing claims, we are today announcing details of the costs tariff for the early phases of the scheme, which have been set by independent costs draftsmen. We will shortly be inviting claimants’ lawyers to make proposals for the expert evidence which they will need. I am also pleased to say that the compensation payments will be disregarded for benefits purposes—once secondary legislation is in place.

I will deposit a copy of my letter to group litigation order postmasters dated 7 December, the group litigation order consultation report, the group litigation order process map and the draft group litigation order claim form in the Libraries of the House.

Overturned historical convictions

I am also pleased to provide an update on Post Office’s progress in delivering compensation to those with overturned historical convictions.

Lord Dyson considered the awards available for non-pecuniary damages, which are personal damages such as mental distress and loss of liberty, in an early neutral evaluation process earlier this year. Since then, the Government have supported Post Office’s approach to deliver compensation more swiftly by settling non-pecuniary claims first using the framework established by Lord Dyson. As of 1 December, 51 claims for non-pecuniary damages have been received and 37 offers made, worth £4.7 million in addition to interim payments already paid.

Regarding pecuniary damages, which are financial damages such as loss of earnings, only eight claims have been received to date, two of which have been settled in full and final settlement alongside their non-pecuniary damages. Government continue to encourage Post Office to process these claims as fast as possible.

As of 1 December, 82 claims for interim compensation have been received and 77 payments made, worth £7.7 million. Post Office has also identified potential cases of hardship and offered and paid further hardship payments of £100,000 to three postmasters. Furthermore, following the recent statutory tax exemption and early neutral evaluation, Post Office decided to increase the upper limit of interim payments for all future applicants to £163,000—from the original upper level of £100,000. For those claimants who received the original interim payment amount of up to £100,000, Post Office has rightly been focusing on progressing and settling their non-pecuniary claims. However, where claimants who had received the original interim payment amount of up to £100,000 and were not able to submit a non-pecuniary claim by early December—and it is therefore unlikely that their non-pecuniary claim would be settled by the end of the year—Post Office has offered top-up payments of £63,000.

Historical shortfall scheme

I am also pleased to see the progress that the Post Office has made in delivering compensation to postmasters through the historical shortfall scheme. As of 30 November, 93% of eligible claimants have been issued offers of compensation, totalling £70.8 million.

The cases that remain are some of the most complex and the Post Office is working to process these claims as soon as possible. However, the Government recognise the fact that those claimants who are yet to receive offers or payments may have been waiting for a considerable period of time for their cases to be settled. For these reasons, the Government are pleased that the Post Office will introduce interim payments for those who have yet to receive an offer or who have chosen to dispute their offer. This will be in addition to the existing hardship payments that the Post Office has already been providing to claimants in particularly difficult circumstances.

The Government announced in October that they are providing funding to Post Office to enable eligible late applications to be accepted into the historical shortfall scheme. Post Office is beginning to process the late claims it has received to date, and I would encourage anyone else who thinks they might be eligible to get in touch with the Post Office at the earliest opportunity to discuss their claim.

Benefit disregard

The Government are aware of the impact of the Horizon scandal on affected postmasters, resulting in significant financial hardship, including bankruptcy for some. Many postmasters have now received compensation payments which would take them over the £16,000 capital limit, rendering them ineligible to receive means-tested benefits and reducing pension credit entitlement. This risks prolonging the impacts of the Horizon scandal on these postmasters by affecting their eligibility to apply for benefits.

We are therefore introducing a benefits disregard for all Post Office and Horizon-related compensation. Once the secondary legislation for this disregard is in place, payments received by postmasters will no longer count towards the capital limit for means-tested benefits and pension credits and will therefore not affect their eligibility to claim for these.

The Government will legislate to put this disregard in place at the earliest possible opportunity.


Home Department

Granted Accredited Financial Investigation Powers to Additional Agencies: Consultation

I intend to lay a statutory instrument before the House next year which will amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (References to Financial Investigators) (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Order 2021/640 to ensure that the new powers introduced in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill are operational and able to be used by accredited financial investigators.

This SI will also grant accredited financial investigator powers to an additional five agencies. This will bring the total number of agencies with access to these powers to 41 in addition to all police forces and local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Accredited financial investigator powers grant civilians working for that agency access to certain Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 powers, which assist in the effective recovery of proceeds of a crime that falls under that agency’s jurisdiction.

The following organisations have sought access to accredited financial investigator powers:

Security Industry Authority

Food Standards Agency

Environment Agency

Public Sector Fraud Authority

Department for Work and Pensions

I have assessed the value of extending the powers to each of these agencies—in particular whether effective criminal justice outcomes could be reached in their jurisdictions without access to these powers—and I have provisionally concluded that we should seek to grant the powers to all five. However, I intend to seek the views of the wider public as to whether these organisations should be granted these powers.

As such, I am today publishing a consultation for 12 weeks. This consultation will seek to establish the views from the public on whether or not these organisations should be granted the financial investigator powers.

A copy of the consultation document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and also made available on


Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Electoral Commission: Performance Standards for Returning Officers and Electoral Registration Office

In accordance with section 9A of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, I am laying before Parliament the Electoral Commission’s new performance standards for returning officers and updated performance standards for electoral registration officers.

The Electoral Administration Act 2006, through amendments to PPERA, gave the Electoral Commission powers to set and monitor performance standards for electoral services. Under these provisions, the commission can determine and publish standards of performance for relevant electoral officers in Great Britain.

Following a consultation, the Electoral Commission has established a new set of standards for returning officers and made updates to the existing standards for electoral registration officers. The new standards reflect changes made by the Elections Act 2022, including measures to strengthen electoral integrity and prevent electoral fraud and ensuring the accessibility of voting in polling stations.

I welcome the Electoral Commission’s updates to the performance standards to reflect the current legislative requirements, which will support the delivery of well-run electoral services and elections, and effective and consistent implementation of measures in the Elections Act 2022.

A copy of the performance standards will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

The attachments can be viewed online at:


English Freeports: Final Government Approval

Today I am announcing a major milestone for the flagship UK freeports programme, with the first English freeports— in Plymouth, Solent, and Teesside—now fully up and running after receiving final government approval. Each of these freeports will now receive £25 million of seed funding and potentially hundreds of millions in locally retained business rates to upgrade local infrastructure and stimulate regeneration. This is alongside a generous package of trade and innovation support for businesses locating there.

This significant milestone is an important step on the freeports journey and sends a clear message: the UK Government are backing these places as a key part of their economic strategy.

Freeports are at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. They will unlock much-needed investment into port communities and their hinterlands. This in turn will help these areas overcome the barriers holding them back and bring jobs and opportunity to some of the UK’s historically overlooked communities.

Freeports catalyse investment through a combination of tax reliefs on new economic activity, a special streamlined customs procedure, an ambitious programme of public investment, and wide-ranging support from the UK Government to help businesses trade, invest, and innovate.

Excellent progress has been made with delivery: investors can now take advantage of tax reliefs in all eight English freeports and are starting to do so, and we expect the remaining five English freeports to join Plymouth, Solent, and Teesside in receiving final approvals shortly.

This Government also remain committed to ensuring that all four corners of the UK can reap the benefits of our freeports programme. We have recently concluded competitions for two green freeports in Scotland and a freeport in Wales, and we will announce the winning locations in due course. We also continue discussions with stakeholders in Northern Ireland about how best to deliver the benefits associated with freeports there.


Northern Ireland

Independent Reporting Commission: Fifth Substantive Report

I have received the fifth substantive report from the Independent Reporting Commission.

The commission was established following the Fresh Start agreement of November 2015 to report on progress towards ending paramilitary activity. That agreement set out the Northern Ireland Executive’s commitments around tackling paramilitary activity and associated criminality, and led to a programme of work to deliver a Northern Ireland Executive action plan. It also provided the framework for the UK Government, the Executive and law enforcement agencies, working with partners in Ireland, to work together to tackle the challenges of organised crime, paramilitarism and terrorism. In the New Decade, New Approach agreement in January 2020, a commitment was made to ongoing work to tackle paramilitarism, and this work continues, including through a second phase of the Northern Ireland Executive programme.

This fifth substantive report builds on the work already undertaken by the commissioners. I welcome the progress it highlights in a number of areas, including disruptions to paramilitary groups as a result of operations by the paramilitary crime taskforce, the downward trend in some aspects of paramilitary activity demonstrated by Police Service of Northern Ireland security statistics, and the reduction in the Northern Ireland-related terrorism threat level from severe to substantial. I also welcome the success and positive impact, noted by the commissioners, that the programme for tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime is having through its focus on the development of a whole of Government approach, and joined-up and integrated working across the public, community and voluntary sectors, and through its emphasis on interventions informed by strong evidence and data.

Yet the report also notes that the problem of paramilitarism is enduring. The criminal activity and coercive control exercised by paramilitary groups continue to cause harm to communities and individuals across Northern Ireland. A number of incidents in recent weeks have demonstrated the callous disregard that paramilitary groups, or those who claim affiliation with them, have for public safety, and the harm and disruption they continue to cause to the communities they often claim to represent.

The commissioners have set out a number of recommendations on how the effort to tackle paramilitarism can be enhanced, including a recommendation for the UK Government, and others, on the need for a formal process of engagement with paramilitary groups aimed at facilitating their transition towards disbandment. We will continue to consider this recommendation through engagement with representatives of Northern Ireland political parties, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Irish Government, with civic society and community representatives in Northern Ireland, and with the Independent Reporting Commission.

Paramilitarism was never justified in the past and cannot be justified today. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, it is important that we remind ourselves of the extraordinary progress that has been made since then on peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. Yet it is clear that a sustained effort is required here over the long term to tackle the enduring problem of paramilitarism. We remain committed to delivering our vision of a safer Northern Ireland and to working with partners to support efforts against the enduring threat and harms posed to communities by terrorist and paramilitary groups.

Political leadership from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland is essential to ensure it remains clear that there is no place for paramilitarism, or the division it stems from, in Northern Ireland. It is a matter of profound disappointment that the local political parties have been unable to restore fully functioning devolved institutions. The lack of a functioning Executive inhibits Northern Ireland Departments from taking a strategic, cross-cutting approach to tackling paramilitarism in partnership with the PSNI and the wider public sector. It remains my top priority to rectify the present situation.

Finally, I would like to express my thanks to the commissioners for their continued work reporting on progress towards ending paramilitarism.