The Post Office Horizon IT system at the centre of a national scandal will be replaced by 2025, with a supplier expected to be named in August.
The Post Office told Computer Weekly the transition to a new system is progressing and it is working with about 200 subpostmasters to support development and the testing of prototypes.
Horizon, the computer system currently used in Post Office branches, was introduced in 1999 to replace mainly manual accounting practices. Originally from ICL, which was acquired by Fujitsu in 2002, it was rolled out across the Post Office branch network from 1999.
But Horizon’s introduction led to a sudden increase in subpostmasters reporting unexplained shortfalls in their accounts, for which they were blamed. The Post Office told each of them that nobody else was experiencing problems and covered up the computer errors. This led to what is known as the Post Office Horizon scandal, which saw many lives destroyed and one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history (see below for a timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal, since 2009).
In April last year, the Post Office announced that it was preparing for the end of the Horizon agreement with Fujitsu, adding an extra year to support its transition to a new system.
In its financial results, published this week, the Post Office said it needed to “make ongoing investments, notably replacing the Horizon EPOS [electronic point of sale] system”. The Post Office reported a loss of £587m for its most recent financial year after incurring huge costs as a result of the scandal.
Post Office spokesperson
A Post Office spokesperson said: “We are making good progress on our ambitious programme to replace Horizon with a new system, by 2025, that will be simpler, faster and more intuitive. Postmasters are working alongside us on design, testing and training to ensure the new system meets their needs in operating today’s Post Offices.”
It plans to begin with slow, gradual pilots in a small subset of branches in the next 12 months, after which it will expand to more branches. “In the meantime, we are continuing to make improvements to the current system,” said the Post Office. This includes moving data to the cloud.
Computer Weekly first reported on problems with the system in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters who were being blamed for unexplained losses.
A total of 736 former subpostmasters were prosecuted for financial crimes as a result. Since a High Court group litigation that ended in 2019, 73 of these have had wrongful convictions overturned, with many more expected to follow. There are also thousands more who suffered life-changing problems after being blamed for losses.
While the Horizon system is set to be switched off, many hundreds of victims of the scandal are still fighting for justice and compensation. There is currently a statutory public inquiry into the scandal, chaired by former judge Wyn Williams.