By Tony Collins
Since complaints of sub-postmasters about the Horizon branch accounting system were first published in 2009, the Post Office has said it is a reliable system used daily by thousands of people and complainants are few.
But, apart from the branch sub-postmasters who have made their concerns about Horizon known to the corporate Post Office, how many others are contented or dissatisfied with Horizon?
The BBC reported yesterday on a former sub-postmistress in Northern Ireland who said she sold her post office after problems with Horizon.
Fiona Elliott ran a branch from 2004 to 2009. It was attached to a convenience store. She told the BBC,
“At the end of the night, it was telling me that I had maybe minus £80, minus £100 or maybe £120 down.”
She put £8,500 of her own money into the post office to balance the books. “If the computer system had been balancing properly, I would not have had to put my own money into it.
“This left the shop side of the business struggling so we ended up selling the whole business.”
The Post Office told the BBC, “We have confidence in our network of 11,500 post office branches and the systems underpinning it.
“The Horizon computer system is operated successfully by thousands of employees, postmasters and their staff to process 47 million transactions every week.”
Another sub-postmaster’s Horizon response
Recently I asked a sub-postmaster about the Horizon system a few days before he and his wife sold their village post office.
The sub-postmaster knew me by sight as a regular customer. His post office had been on the market for several months. I spoke to him a few days before he passed it over to the new owners and asked why he was leaving. He did not look of retiring age. He said he did not like the hours and the opportunities to take short breaks were few and far between. He and his wife were going into a different line of work.
In a tone of voice that invited a positive response, I asked what he thought of the Horizon system. He was passionate in his criticism. He did not stop giving me his views about Horizon and its frequent updates (while shaking his head now and then) until another customer began queuing behind me.
Not a failure
Given that Horizon has been operating in thousands of post office branches for nearly 20 years and has coped with many major changes, the Post Office could say with authority that the Horizon system has not been a failure.
But is it generally reliable? And are sub-postmasters happy with it? In the absence of any published, authoritative and independent survey of sub-postmaster views, it is impossible to answer either question with any authority.