Horizon system faults and subsequent legal action by POL

Alan Bates (JFSA) made this Freedom of Information request to Royal Mail Group Limited

The request was refused by Royal Mail Group Limited.

From: Alan Bates (JFSA)

Dear Royal Mail Group Limited,

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 would you please provide the following information:

(1) How many (a) prosecutions and (b) investigations of postmasters instigated by Post Office Ltd as a result of apparent financial irregularities on the Horizon computer system have subsequently been abandoned?

(2) How many complaints have Post Office Ltd received from subpostmasters concerning difficulties with the Horizon computer system in each of the last five years?

(3) What operational faults have been identified with the Horizon computer system used by Post Office Ltd since its introduction; and what action has been taken to resolve any such faults?

(4) What the monetary value is in current prices of the (a) original estimate and (b) final cost of the Post Office Horizon computer system; and what additional costs at current prices have been incurred since its completion.

Yours faithfully,
Alan Bates

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Royal Mail Group Limited

Dear Mr Bates,

Your ref: AJME-8NHESG

Thank you for your request for information received on 9 November 2011,
which we are considering under the Freedom of Information Act. Under the
Act you should expect a reply from us to be sent by 7 December 2011, which
is twenty working days from receipt of your request.

If for any reason we are unable to provide you with a full response within
that time, we will contact you explaining the reasons for this and giving a
revised date by which we will reply.

If in the meantime you have any questions or would like to contact us about
your request, please contact us by telephone 0207 250 2227 or alternatively
email or write to us at the address below. Please be assured that we are
giving this our attention and will get back to you shortly.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Moore
[Royal Mail Group request email]
1st Floor, Bunhill Row Wing
148 Old Street
London
EC1V 9HQ

Post Office Ltd is registered in England and Wales. Registered No. 2154540.
Registered Office 148 Old Street, London, EC1V 9HQ. Post Office and the
Post Office logo are registered trade marks of Post Office Ltd.

Alan Bates
<request-92745-3b1a43a5@whatdoth To: FOI requests at Royal Mail Group <[Royal Mail Group request email]>
eyknow.com> cc:
Sent by: Alan Bates Subject: Freedom of Information request - Horizon system faults and subsequent legal
<request-92745-3b1a43a5@whatdoth action by POL
eyknow.com>

09/11/2011 18:16

Dear Royal Mail Group Limited,

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 would you please provide
the following information:

(1) How many (a) prosecutions and (b) investigations of postmasters
instigated by Post Office Ltd as a result of apparent financial
irregularities on the Horizon computer system have subsequently
been abandoned?

(2) How many complaints have Post Office Ltd received from
subpostmasters concerning difficulties with the Horizon computer
system in each of the last five years?

(3) What operational faults have been identified with the Horizon
computer system used by Post Office Ltd since its introduction; and
what action has been taken to resolve any such faults?

(4) What the monetary value is in current prices of the (a)
original estimate and (b) final cost of the Post Office Horizon
computer system; and what additional costs at current prices have
been incurred since its completion.

Yours faithfully,
Alan Bates

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Royal Mail Group Limited registered in England and Wales registered
number 4138203 registered office 3rd Floor, 100 Victoria Embankment,
London, EC4Y 0HQ

This email and any attachments are confidential and intended for the
addressee only. If you are not the named recipient, you must not use,
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isabella wall left an annotation ()

I have had a miss balance in my post office result of 24k and me know it is due to horizon but pol will not listen . What a surprise !!!!

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Royal Mail Group Limited

Dear Mr Bates

Ref: AJME-8NHESG

Thank you for your e-mail of the 09 November 2011 in respect of your
Freedom of Information request.

Please accept my aplogies for not responding within the statutory time
limit. Please be assured that I am giving this my attention and will get
back to you shortly and by the 16 December at the latest.

If you have any questions or would like to contact Post Office Ltd about
your request, please email us or alternatively you can contact us between
the hours of 0800-1700 Monday to Friday on 0207 250 2227.

Yours sincerely

Peter Johnson
Information Manager
Post Office Limited

***********************************************************************
Royal Mail Group Limited registered in England and Wales registered number
4138203 registered office 3rd Floor, 100 Victoria Embankment, London, EC4Y
0HQ

This email and any attachments are confidential and intended for the
addressee only. If you are not the named recipient, you must not use,
disclose, reproduce, copy or distribute the contents of this communication.
If you have received this in error, please contact the sender and then
delete this email from your system.
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Royal Mail Group Limited

Dear Mr Bates

Ref: AJME-8NHESG

I am writing in response to your email received by Post Office Limited on
09 November 2011, which I am dealing with under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000. Please accept my apologies for the tardiness of this
response, I hope you haven’t been inconvenienced.

In your email, you have requested information in four parts;

You have requested;

(1) How many (a) prosecutions and (b) investigations of postmasters
instigated by Post Office Ltd as a result of apparent financial
irregularities on the Horizon computer system have subsequently been
abandoned?

(2) How many complaints have Post Office Ltd received from subpostmasters
concerning difficulties with the Horizon computer system in each of the
last five years?

(3) What operational faults have been identified with the Horizon computer
system used by Post Office Ltd since its introduction; and what action has
been taken to resolve any such faults?

(4) What the monetary value is in current prices of the (a) original
estimate and (b) final cost of the Post Office Horizon computer system; and
what additional costs at current prices have been incurred since its
completion.

Before I respond to your four requests let me emphasise that the Post
Office is fully confident that the Horizon computer system in its branches,
and all the accounting processes around it, enable supostmasters to account
accurately for the transactions and balances they record.

The system has been operating for over ten years. In that time thousands of
subpostmasters will have used it in performing many millions of successful
weekly and monthly financial reconciliations between the cash they have in
the office and the transactions they have handled. The Horizon system has
been rigorously tested and the National Federation of Subpostmasters, which
represents subpostmasters throughout the country, has expressed its full
confidence in the accuracy and robustness of the system.

Turning to your requests for information I can confirm that Post Office
Limited does hold some of the information you have requested, however your
requests are wide ranging, relating to a number of different areas spanning
more than a decade and therefore, in my investigation into your request, I
estimate that, in order for Post Office Limited to determine whether we
hold all of the information requested, it would significantly exceed the
cost limit set out under section 12(1) of the Act.

The appropriate limit for Post Office Limited is set at £450. This
represents the estimated cost of one person spending 18 hours in
determining whether we hold the information, and in locating, retrieving
and extracting the information. To search through our records in order to
identify all of the information falling within the scope of your request
would take significantly longer than 18 hours. Consequently, Post Office
Limited is not obliged by the Freedom of Information Act to respond to the
request.

You may wish to narrow the scope of your request, for example; by reducing
the areas you would like information for, the level of detail you require
or the length of time your request covers. I will treat a fresh request as
a new request for information and exemptions may apply..

That said it may be useful if I explain that we published some information
in relation to original costs of Horizon in the 2001/02 Royal Mail Group
Accounts. The extract is included below;

‘Responsibility for the liabilities of the Horizon ICL/Pathway project was
transferred from the Government to the Post Office in 1999. This resulted
in a one-off payment by the Group for costs incurred by ICL of £550m, a
write off of £571m in the 1999-2000 accounts and the incurrence of
substantial ongoing maintenance costs. By the time the contract terminates
in 2005, aggregate contract costs are expected to amount to some £1bn.’

I am sorry that I cannot provide you will all of the information you have
requested on this occasion, However, if I can be of further help or you
have any queries about this response please contact me via the email
address [Royal Mail Group request email].

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of this response, you do have a
right to request an internal review. Internal review requests should be
submitted to:

Head of Information Compliance
Royal Mail Group
Company Secretary's Office
100 Victoria Embankment
LONDON
EC4Y 0HQ
[Royal Mail Group request email]

If, having requested an internal review by Royal Mail, you are still not
satisfied with our response you also have a right of appeal to the
Information Commissioner at:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Telephone: 01625 545 700
www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

Yours sincerely

Peter Johnson
Information Manager

***********************************************************************
Royal Mail Group Limited registered in England and Wales registered number
4138203 registered office 3rd Floor, 100 Victoria Embankment, London, EC4Y
0HQ

This email and any attachments are confidential and intended for the
addressee only. If you are not the named recipient, you must not use,
disclose, reproduce, copy or distribute the contents of this communication.
If you have received this in error, please contact the sender and then
delete this email from your system.
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From: Alan Bates (JFSA)

Dear Royal Mail Group Limited,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Royal Mail Group Limited's handling of my FOI request 'Horizon system faults and subsequent legal action by POL'.

It relates to the reply issued by you on 16th December 2011 to my Freedom of Information request of 9th November 2011, your reference AJME-8NHESG.
Prior to addressing the points contained within my request you made the following comments about Horizon:-

“Before I respond to your four requests let me emphasise that the Post
Office is fully confident that the Horizon computer system in its branches,
and all the accounting processes around it, enable subpostmasters to account
accurately for the transactions and balances they record.

The system has been operating for over ten years. In that time thousands of
subpostmasters will have used it in performing many millions of successful
weekly and monthly financial reconciliations between the cash they have in
the office and the transactions they have handled. The Horizon system has
been rigorously tested and the National Federation of Subpostmasters, which
represents subpostmasters throughout the country, has expressed its full
confidence in the accuracy and robustness of the system.”

It is not the millions of successful weekly and monthly financial reconciliations that are of concern, it is the numerous unsuccessful reconciliations that take place that Post Office refuses to even consider may occur, and a Post Office management that seems blind to such possibilities. By default you are stating the position of Post Office is that Horizon operates with only perfect software in the world as it has never had a single fault.

This would seem an unusual position for Post Office to try and defend, as the systems engineering division of Fujitsu, a company contracted by Post Office and so deeply involved with the software of Horizon, published a white paper on the shortcomings software accuracy once a system enters service. When you combine their report with the raft of work and the numerous international conferences dedicated to improving the quality of data held on databases, especially where third party systems are involved, it not surprising that so many subpostmasters have such little faith in the accuracy of Horizon. Nor does it recognize the huge growth in the data cleansing industry that has come about because of problems with databases. So I presume that with your earlier claim that the system ‘enables subpostmasters to account accurately’ means that no data from Horizon has ever been through any data cleansing process. Please correct my presumption if it is incorrect.

You also claim that the National Federation of Subpostmasters represents subpostmasters throughout the country, a statement which is not strictly accurate. The National Federation of Subpostmasters represents only those who have agreed to pay for membership, which is only a percentage of all subpostmasters. Then of that percentage, so many are that unhappy with the state of the Federation that they are current seeking to leave for representation elsewhere. In part I understand that this is due to the fact that Post Office have refused to recognize any other body that has ever tried to represent Subpostmasters, effectively ensuring a closed shop is maintained as is the special relationship between the Federation and Post Office. Another major cause of concern has been the way the Federation has followed Post Office with regard to Horizon, as the Federation has never actually instigated any independent investigation into the system and has made statements only based on the assurances of Post Office. Again please correct me if I have been given incorrect information.

Returning to my original requests and with regard to my first point, I refer you to your response to me dated 30th December 2008 in respect of a previous FOI request. In that letter you stated that from July 1999 a new automated system was introduced which enabled you to provide the information of how many subpostmasters had been terminated by Post Office during a specific year without a reason being given. Surely this same system would be able to provide a simple summary of the information required for point one.

Regarding point two, I would have expected that the information requested would be readily available from the Network Business Support Centre as it is only a summary of the amount of calls received and logged by a type classified as Horizon. How else could a large organization measure whether or not they were improving their performance, unless performance is of no real concern?

Surely with point three it would have only have required the minimum of attention, as over the years Post Office has always publically maintained the position that Horizon is 100% accurate and that any problems are solely the responsibility of the subpostmaster.

With regard to the fourth of the requests that I have made, it does seem strange that such a large a business as Post Office Limited is not able to keep track of what it has spent or has knowledge of the final cost of a contact that was terminated 6 years ago.

All the information I have requested I would have expected to have been readily available anyway, as it is not dissimilar to that which was raised in a written question to your Minister by Michael Weir MP, that appeared in Hansard on 1st November 2011. In response Mr Davey asked Paula Vennells, the managing director of Post Office Ltd to reply to Mr Weir with a copy of the response being lodged in the Libraries of the House. That reply, while echoing the company chant that Horizon is perfect and complete with numerous pages of smoke and mirrors, failed to give any real answers to the questions asked.

I understand that a second opportunity has now been afforded to Post Office to actually answer the original questions. Subsequently this would mean that you should now be in a position to answer my queries well within the appropriate limit of costs set.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ho...

Yours faithfully,

Alan Bates

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Royal Mail Group Limited

Dear Mr Bates

Re: Internal Review under the Freedom of Information Act

Thank you for your email received 15/01/2012 requesting an internal review
of Royal Mail Group’s reply to your request for information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000. This is receiving our attention and we
will write to you again once the internal review has been concluded.

In accordance with guidelines from the Information Commissioner’s Office,
Royal Mail will answer all appeals and requests for internal review of FOI
requests as soon as it reasonably can. This will usually be within 20
working days and in any case no later than 40 days from receipt of the
appeal.

In the meantime if you have any questions or would like to add any further
information for consideration then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

MF Khushi
Company Secretary's Office

Royal Mail is a trading name of Royal Mail Group Ltd. Registered in England
and Wales.
Registered number 4138203. Registered office at 100 Victoria Embankment,
LONDON, EC4Y 0HQ

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Royal Mail Group Limited registered in England and Wales registered number
4138203 registered office 3rd Floor, 100 Victoria Embankment, London, EC4Y
0HQ

This email and any attachments are confidential and intended for the
addressee only. If you are not the named recipient, you must not use,
disclose, reproduce, copy or distribute the contents of this communication.
If you have received this in error, please contact the sender and then
delete this email from your system.
**********************************************************************

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Royal Mail Group Limited


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Dear Mr Bates,

Please find attached a response to your request for an internal review of
your recent Freedom of Information Act request.

Yours Sincerely

Daniel Tulp
Company Secretary's Office
Freedom of Information Case Officer
[Royal Mail Group request email]

Royal Mail is a trading name of Royal Mail Group Ltd. Registered in
England and Wales.
Registered number 4138203. Registered office at 100 Victoria Embankment,
LONDON, EC4

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