… but Hollinrake refuses to talk.
This is a newsletter to let you know that a new Investigating the Post Office Scandal podcast has gone up – an interview with Dan Neidle from Tax Policy Associates. Dan has been making waves since he read Tom Witherow’s excellent Daily Mail interview with the 80-year old Francis Duff, a Subpostmaster who has been horrendously “shafted” by the Post Office’s Historical Shortfall compensation scheme (HSS).
After reading the article, Dan put his special powers to good use, writing this hard-hitting blog post, which, because of Dan’s profile as the man who brought down the Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi, (and because it was a very good post by a respected expert in his field) got traction on social and in the national media, even Carol Vorderman (no slouch with numbers) got involved!
The fuss was noted by the Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake, who tweeted that he was working on a solution.
Our interview also covers Dan’s career, the Zahawi Incident and goes into some detail on Dan’s basic thesis, which is that the Post Office’s Historical Shortfall scheme is fundamentally unfair, and it needs a specific law exempting all payments it makes from tax.
Since Dan’s initial intervention, the government has rushed out a new statutory instrument ensuring recipients of the two schemes it controls – the Overturned Historical Convictions Scheme and the Group Litigation Scheme – are exempt from taxation, but that still leaves the Historical Shortfall Scheme (by far the largest in terms of numbers of people affected) and the Suspension Pay scheme for Subpostmasters who were unfairly suspended without pay.
Dan says the law should be extended to cover both those schemes and explicitly that, because he doesn’t trust the Post Office, any new law should also specifically stop the Post Office from reducing compensation payments to take into account the removal of tax liabilities.
It is notable that Dan, who says he doesn’t normally offer tax advice, makes an exception to recommend that recipients of HSS compensation do not pay any tax on those payments until the situation is resolved.
Dan appears optimistic the situation will be resolved with the removal of tax liabilities on the payments. I do not share his optimism. Nothing I have seen (including yesterday’s letter to the Times replying to Dan’s op-ed) suggests the Post Office or the government are planning to remove the tax liabilities from the HSS or the other Post Office-run scheme, the Suspension Pay scheme (for postmasters who were historically, and unfairly, suspended without pay).
To get to the bottom of all this I asked the Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake for an interview. He declined.
Looked at in the round, the HSS is so evidently problematic I suspect it is only a matter of time before the statutory inquiry into the Post Office deems it unfair. If that happens I suspect the government will be forced to intervene, whether they are currently minded to or not.
Perhaps that’s me being optimistic, but from what the Postmasters and their legal representatives have been saying for months now, the HSS either has been designed to be unfair, or was so badly designed and executed it is delivering patently unfair results (and doing so very, very slowly). The HSS is, in effect, the Post Office’s final insult to many of its victims.
The Inquiry is currently in week 2 of part 2 of Phase 3, and Rebecca and I are trying to keep an eye on it. We hope to put out a podcast in a couple of weeks, rounding up this current three week phase.
I know several people have been monitoring the witness testimony more closely than I have been able to, and then kindly tweeting some of the more interesting evidence. I don’t think we’ve missed anything earth-shattering yet, but please do let me know if something new caught your eye and we’ll try to include it in the round-up podcast when we get a moment to put it together. Simply reply to this email and your message goes straight to my inbox in complete confidence.
Bugs, errors and defects
Blogger and former Postmaster Tim McCormack has been doggedly following Phase 3 of the inquiry and spotted something which will be of interest to those who have followed this story for a while – a document detailing the S80 Horizon release in 2005, designed to fix bugs, but which introduced a load more new bugs into the Horizon system, all of which affected the Horizon front end – ie the part of it used by Subpostmasters. Tim has uploaded the document to his website and commented on it. You can read his thoughts here.
Prof joins GLO scheme oversight board
Professor Richard Moorhead (who, incidentally, gets a mention in the Neidle interview), the legal ethics expert, has joined Lord Arbuthnot in taking a place on the independent oversight board of the government’s Group Litigation compensation scheme. You can hear what The Global Legal Post has to say about that, here.
Computer Weekly wins another award
Computer Weekly’s Karl Flinders and Bryan Glick have won the Gavin MacFayden award for their outstanding work exposing the Post Office Horizon scandal. You can see Bryan and Karl‘s acceptance speeches on twitter. Congratulations to them both.
A warm welcome to the new subscribers who have joined us over the last week. It’s good to have you on board. I really appreciate your investment and I hope you will find this a useful addition to your understanding of this long-running scandal.