The Post Office will retain its controversial Horizon contract with Fujitsu until 2024, following a one-year extension to its retail and accounting system agreement.
The additional year for the contract, which is at the centre of a scandal that ruined the lives of hundreds of subpostmasters, will cost £42m.
The extension is being awarded to support the Post Office while it ends the Horizon contract. According to the contract notice, it has agreed to extend its contract with Fujitsu for Horizon, currently due to end in 2023, by 12 months, which will take it to the end of March 2024.
In a contract award notice, the Post Office said: “In order to prepare the Horizon Agreement for expiry, and in order to receive transitional support from Fujitsu Services following such expiry, the Horizon Agreement will be extended for a term of an additional one year.
“In parallel, Post Office continues to revise and develop its system architecture and service delivery model,” it added.
Thousands of subpostmasters, who own and manage Post Office Branches, have been using the software which is at the core of the contract, known as Horizon, since its introduction in 1999.
When introduced, the system was supposed to revolutionise how branches operate by automating largely manual processes. Soon after its introduction, subpostmasters began suffering unexplained accounting shortfalls, which they suspected were caused by the system.
In 2009, Computer Weekly told the stories of seven subpostmasters affected by the losses, which led to many more who had suffered losses coming forward.
Hundreds of subpostmasters were blamed for the losses as their contract with the Post Office said they were responsible if they could not explain shortfalls. (See timeline below for Computer Weekly coverage since 2009).
Subpostmasters had to pay back shortfall or face prosecution. Those who did not repay the money were prosecuted, with some sent to prison, while many paid large fines. The lives of subpostmasters across the country were ruined, with those not prosecuted repaying money due to losses that had nothing to do with them and did not actually exist outside of the Horizon system.
In 2019, a High Court group litigation saw 550 subpostmasters successfully sue the Post Office. The judge, Peter Fraser, said the Post Office’s claims that the Horizon system had no errors was “the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the Earth is flat”.
Former Fujitsu workers are currently under investigation by the Metropolitan Police over potentially committing perjury during the prosecution of subpostmasters for financial crimes.
Known as the Horizon scandal, it is now regarded as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in UK history. Around 50 prosecuted subpostmasters had their cases sent for appeal at the Court of Appeal and Southwark Crown Court. The six sent to the latter had their criminal prosecutions quashed in December, and 42 subpostmasters will later this month hear judgements on their appeals sent in March.
The contract notice for the Horizon extension outlines how hosting and on-premise datacentre operations services and network services will not be extended, and will be replaced by cloud-based hosting.
The Post Office wants to continue to access Fujitsu experts. “A process will be added to facilitate access to specified Fujitsu intellectual property so as to assist the Post Office on its development and modernisation of the Horizon system and exit from the Horizon Agreement,” said the contract notice.