Heathrow’s IT errors were inconvenient, HMRC’s: stressful, the PO’s led to imprisonment, illness, premature death & suicide

24 April 2021 — Political Concern

The Post Office management covered up flawed IT systems & software glitches.This, the most flagrant example, ‘Britain’s most widespread miscarriage of justice’ was first reported by the BBC today; 39 former sub-postmasters were cleared of theft following the overturning of six other convictions in December.

After the Post Office installed the flawed Horizon computer system in branches 21 years ago, unexplained discrepancies and losses began to be reported by sub-postmasters.  There were more than 700 prosecutions for theft, based on Horizon evidence.

A senior lawyer wrote today that the problem was not so much the Horizon software but a sequence of horrible, deliberate decisions made by human beings – about whether to bring prosecutions, to contest civil cases, and to avoid the disclosure of relevant documents.

One of those concerned, Post Office Chief Executive Nick Read, called on the government to compensate victims of the Horizon scandal and assured his staff that the Horizon system was ‘on its way out’.

How many less extreme situations are brought about by incorrectly written software (software glitches)?

HMRC: “missing correspondence, incorrect PAYE codes, inaccurate tax calculations”

AccountingWEB members (accounting and finance professionals in the UK) have ‘seen it all in their time’, but some believe that HMRC’s errors are becoming more frequent.

“Most (elderly people) do not think of checking the statements and pay up whatever is asked” (accountant)’.

Readers in their 80s with simple and transparent finances (i.e. pensions and savings interest) report that they have been faced with a range of time-consuming and stress-inducing issues. These include:

  • Requests to pay tax on another person’s bank account
  • Incorrect demands for money year after year.
  • Repeated demands for tax on property sold years ago, despite written admissions of error and promises that the error will not be repeated.

One reader who was forced to employ an accountant in self-defence, heard from a reputable source in 2020 that these errors were due to a software glitch and would not happen again – but in 2021 received another very similar demand.

A few of the points made in the government’s own assessment of the HMRC’s performance:

  • A narrow approach to following process, even where departmental errors are identified. Impact on the customer is not properly acknowledged or assessed’ – page 14
  • HMRC and DWP are aware of a system error causing inaccurate pension forecasts. Neither department took responsibility for this and failed to provide a reason to the customer for the error – page 27
  • It was unacceptable for customers to be left disadvantaged by departmental error in these circumstances. However, we continue to see more examples of unresolved future financial loss – page 28

As David Green the lawyer reflected, ‘the Post Office (and we add, HMRC) heads were not named or held responsible, instead, they have their gongs and their pensions and their self-serving supposed exculpations of ‘lessons learned’.

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