The Horizon software at the centre of the current Post Office scandal was originally designed to save money and reduce fraud in connection with benefits and pension payments.  Even though the Benefits Agency dropped the software, there are disturbing parallels between the way sub-postmasters were, and claimants still are, treated.

£700 million lost
Horizon was a joint venture between the Post Office, the Benefits Agency (as the DWP was then called) and ICL, a subsidiary of Fujitsu.

The intention was to create a swipe card system for benefits and pensions to be paid out at Post Offices, replacing paper payment books.

The project began in 1996, but by 1999 the Benefits agency had lost all faith in the system ever working and pulled out, leaving the taxpayer with a massive £700 million bill with nothing to show at the end of it.

In desperation, the project was repurposed to allow electronic bookkeeping to replace paper accounts in post offices.

And the result of that is now playing out in the media, the courts and a public inquiry.

Misuse of powers
That the Benefits Agency pulled out of the Horizon system it so its credit. 

But there are many alarming parallels  between the current DWP and the Post Office.

Both have the power to conduct their own criminal investigations and both routinely misuse these powers.

The Post Office threatened sub-postmasters with prosecution for theft unless they admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay back all the money they allegedly owed.

The reality was that the Post Office very often had no evidence that any theft had taken place and would not have been able to bring such a charge.  But sub-postmasters were never given the opportunity to examine the alleged evidence.

Similarly, claimants interviewed under caution by the DWP are often told that if they end their claim and agree terms to pay back any alleged overpayment, they will escape prosecution for theft.

Many claimants agree, without understanding that the DWP have failed to show them any evidence of the alleged overpayment.

If such cases go to tribunal, rather than a criminal court, they are very often thrown out – or the alleged overpayment dramatically reduced - because of a lack of evidence.  The DWP has such poor systems that they often cannot actually show whether payments took place or how much they were for.

In other cases, the claimant will insist that they informed the DWP of a change of circumstances but the DWP will be unable to supply a copy of the document they received from the claimant, even though there is evidence it existed.

No legal representation
Both sub-postmasters and claimants are routinely interviewed under caution without any legal representation being offered or provided.  This would not happen if prosecutions were being carried out via the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The lack of legal representation allows the prosecuting body to mislead the people they are pursuing without any fear of consequences.

Obsessive secrecy
Both the DWP and the Post Office are obsessively secretive. 

The Post Office’s often successful attempts to hide information from the courts and the current public inquiry are a scandal in themselves.

In the same way, anyone who has attempted to obtain information from the DWP via the Freedom of Information Act will know the huge and very expensive lengths that the department will go to in order to keep evidence about their practices and procedures secret, even when it involves the death of claimants.

And there are many examples of the DWP keeping evidence from inquiries, government committees and even coroners’ courts.

Bonuses for wrongly recovering money
Post Office investigators, it has now been revealed, were on a bonus system for any money they recovered by threatening and misleading sub-postmasters into repaying money they never owed.

We don’t know if DWP investigators are also on a bonus system for recovering money from claimants.  But we do know that in the past the DWP has paid bonuses to teams for pushing claimants off benefits, including by way of sanctions.  So there is every possibility that fraud teams are incentivized in this way.

Benefits and Work has made  a Freedom of Information request for any documents which deal with bonuses in relation to detecting fraud or recovering money from claimants.

We don’t expect to get a genuine response anytime soon.

Fears for the future
The DWP have very recently been given powers to allow the mass surveillance of claimants’ bank accounts.

But, as we revealed last November,  the DWP want to go much further than this.

They are hoping to get the power to arrest claimants, search their homes and seize evidence.

After what we have seen of the Post Office scandal, such a possibility is truly terrifying.  The opportunity for the department to disappear documents, including copies kept by the claimant which would establish their own innocence, do not bear thinking about.

In the wake of the Post Office scandal, there is now a very strong argument for stripping the DWP of its power to prosecute claimants.  And there is an absolutely overwhelming argument for preventing them gaining any additional powers.

But is there anyone who will effectively make that argument?

You can read more about the connection between the Post Office Horizon system and the Benefits Agency in Alan Bates and Others vs the Post Office Technical Appendix to

Judgment (No.6) “Horizon Issues”  and in the Private Eye special report Justice Lost in the Post

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    Caroline H · 5 months ago
    We are the easiest of targets, we are accused of being lazy, conniving, fake, and a scourge on society. we’re routinely not believed and belittled by those who hold power. Things are horrendous enough now, let alone when these new powers come into force, now we’re to be treated like potential criminals in our own homes, and have our bank accounts scrutinised to the minutest detail. It makes me ashamed to live in a country where the most vulnerable people are so shamefully targeted in this way. It’s nothing less than degrading, underhanded bullying behaviour. The government are more than happy it seems to consider giving unmonitored power to the most inept, unqualified and deceitful department, that operates under the guise Of being there to support us. It’s simply a modern day Trojan horse. I don’t doubt for one minute that there are people who lie and cheat the system, but please don’t insult our intelligence by pretending they don’t know who these people are, an idiot could spot them a mile off. Instead they choose to prey on genuine and deserving individuals by instilling fear and stress at every turn. I’m totally incensed that we are going to be subjected to this unjust treatment and once again, the powers that be will get away with it. 
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      Clare · 5 months ago
      @Asbo My mum was in a road accident So requires a walker or sticks to walk She has little or no difficulties with the public As her disability can be  seen While I have a long list of hidden disabilities including Fibromyalgia , Epilepsy and effects from having a TIA I get regular filthy looks and abuse Due to my disabilities not being on show to the world The way we are treated by others can be so stark
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Asbo · 5 months ago
      @Caroline H I take objection to some of your response Caroline re being able to spot 'a cheat' 'a mile off'. So many people with invisible disablities which is 80% of us have been perceived or portrayed by the media as 'faking' it because our problems aren't visible. So many have fluctuating conditions. So how do you know who is 'genuine' and who is 'deserving'? This makes you as guilty as the government and their rhetoric of the deserving Vs the undeserving poor. Peoples struggles and challenges and disablities are nobody else's business and not for you to judge. It is comments like this that plays right into the hands of the RW and justifies their Draconian measures. There's always been fraud investigators for the small amount of DWP fraud so leave them to do it
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    Magbot · 5 months ago
    One disturbing parallel with the Horizon scandal is the retrospective alteration to UC claimants' payment records. Since the online journal is the only means of communication available to claimants this is at best not acceptable but at worse disgraceful. 
    In the case of a disputed over payment where the DWP fail to provide a written record of their calculations, a claimant's only evidence is their online journal and their bank statements. If their payment record is altered without justification or explanation the figures will no longer accord with their bank statements. What defence do they have then?
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      DianaW · 5 months ago
      @Magbot The bank statements are good evidence for the claimant, since they're independent records - compiled not by the customer but by the bank. The DWP's payment record won't be regarded as more accurate than that by any court, given the known defects in all large government computer systems which the Post Office scandal has so massively highlighted. And don't forget that the DWP has to make accurate returns to HMRC, reflected in the tax document that they have to send each claimant every year/at the end of each claim; they'll have to ensure that they're accounting accurately to the taxman or end up in very, very deep trouble themselves.
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    Judith Winn · 5 months ago
    We need to scream objections to these plans from the rooftops to avoid an all too easy to picture dystopian future
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Gary protano. · 5 months ago
    Hi I had my benefits cut in sept of 2023 after an assessment by an assessor who claimed she was qualified to assess me. 
    I was reduced from high rate living allowance to standard. And mobility standard rate was taken off me completely scoring 0 points. 
    All the after a brain injury (fractured skull. Bleed on the brain. TBI. And a shoulder that is still deformed due to my accident). 
    I have been deeply distressed with PIP for so long as they treat people like fodder. 
    I’m still waiting for a tribunal hearing date. 
    And when I have phoned them on more than one occasion they put the phone down after waiting over an hour to get through. Soooooo distresssing. 
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Marion · 5 months ago
    Though I & many others using this site are grateful for & appreciate the work you do in supporting us, I wonder if I’m the only one that fears its sort of scaremongering too?

    I realise it’s due to the nature of anything to do with the DWP & it's henchmen, being almost all negative to claimants. Likewise with the excellent Disability News Service (DNS) with John Pring? 

    As soon as I see either of these land in the inbox, I think what horrors await. Is there a way round this? We all live with such fear constantly & not helping physical & mental health?
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Ani · 5 months ago
      @Marion Hm. Maybe the emphasis in these articles should be on solutions. But the head-in-the-sand approach risk a worse shock later. Everyone thinks it won't happen to them! There is genuinely a war on benefits claimants going on.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Lynn Castle · 5 months ago
    I think we need an Alan Bates to take on the DWP…he really is a hero in my book..he just wouldn’t give up…they say this country is democratic but it’s becoming more of a communist state everyday….
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Ani · 5 months ago
      @Lynn Castle Fascist, you mean.
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      Swabaxter · 5 months ago
      @Lynn Castle I would characterise the UK as a failing democracy where Politicians fail to deal with important issues in a timely matter.  I would look to the USA (and it has it's problems too) for better leadership in this area.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Sue · 5 months ago
    Lambs to the slaughter.
    It is the same defamation of character & widespread untrue & unfounded allegations of dishonesty, fraud & theft from 'hardworking taxpayers' that make me afraid to go out of my flat & wish to end my life.
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Ani · 5 months ago
      @The Dogmother Dogmother,
      There's that funny prayer:
      "God, please help me to become the person my dog thinks I am..."

    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      The Dogmother · 5 months ago
      @Sue I hear you @Sue. Life is more fearful than death..  and it shouldn't be. Life should be a celebration every day.I won't even look outside anymore. My mum let's my doggo run at her place as there's loads of room. I can face nothing. I'm paranoid and exhausted. 
      I'm a shadow of what I once was even five years ago. Regardless of my miraide of horrible health conditions that have plagued me most of my life. I'm hollow, disillusioned, sad, depressed and downright lonely. I swear my dog keeps me alive. My one reason why I won't give in to them and end what's left of my life .We are valid. All of us. X
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Eliza · 5 months ago
      @The Dogmother Same 

    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      jakkijax · 5 months ago
      @Sue Same here 
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      I. R · 5 months ago
      @Sue 💔
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    lesley · 5 months ago
    I watched all the programmes back to back and the Panorama documentary.  There are four suicides (that they know of) how many more?  Having lost my daughter to suicide (in 2000) the programmes had a big impact on me. Just one suicide is a suicide too many.  Also she was let down by the system.  Does any system work properly and is any system there to help us? Am losing all faith.

    How many times have I had that same old mantra said to me when I have made a complaint about anything ..... "You are the only one to have made a complaint".  Well it won't wash any more.
    Does not look like any of the political parties have come out untarnished from this post office scandal.

    This site here, Benefit and Works, is the only one that seems to help us. So thanks to all the moderators.

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    Elizabeth Vidler · 5 months ago
    Privatisation has been to the detriment of many things in this country,  but they are too numerous to mention
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Swabaxter · 5 months ago
      @Elizabeth Vidler Ultimately we want a good service from a company or organisation be it private or public ownership . Of course the employees should be treated well too. I assign blame to the 30 or so Government Cabinet ministers who had responsibility for the Post Office over the 25 year period. As a starting point I have called on Sir Ed Davey to resign.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Ian · 5 months ago
    Before Horizon the computer contracts were held by the government.  So Horizon is the result of a privatisation which is what so many were desperate to protect.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Pat · 5 months ago
    As an aside, I discovered recently that the DWP don't record calls made by decision makers. 

    I take this to be a very serious matter given what's at stake in some of these calls, especially given they do record calls made to the helpline and use these call recordings to aid prosecutions.
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      UB40 Rumrunner · 4 months ago
      @Pat They do record calls, if you inform them of the need to. This includes assessments.
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      DianaW · 5 months ago
      @Karen It's been a few years since I last had to do this, when submitting a mandatory reconsideration request, but it was then possible to e-mail the DWP. A helpful Jobcentre person gave me her work e-mail to use and assured me that she would (and she did) forward the request to ensure that it didn't get 'lost in the post' or delayed until it was out of time.
      When I won the appeal to the tribunal against refusal to reconsider the DWP award, the tribunal recommended that I not be re-assessed for two years. The DWP sent me a new WCA form the following week but I found an e-mail from them (from earlier in that appeal process) and used that e-address to protest the re-assessment - which was cancelled. 
      And one can always turn up at one's local jobcentre and hand in any important printed/written document, then insist on their providing proof of receipt of that. I had to take my copy of the tribunal's judgment to the jobcentre to prove the result of the appeal, since the DWP didn't bother to attend the hearing.
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Swabaxter · 5 months ago
      @Sparkly I took on HMRC over my Tax Credits account. It took five years as they kept changing their minds over the amount of money they claimed I owed. Eventually the regulator found in my favour, no money was due and small compensation paid to myself. I came to the conclusion that the Tax Credit system could never work, HMRC staff trusted the computer system blindly and my MP was incapable of resolving what was not a complex case.
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Karen · 5 months ago
      @Swabaxter It's ridiculous that we're in the 21st century and you still cannot communicate with the DWP via email. But I'm pretty sure that's because it's standard practice for them to claim that applications and evidence have not been received, putting the blame for delays on applicants. I firmly believe they "lose" a certain number of forms etc, knowing a certain percentage of people will simply lack the confidence/health to recomplete and resend them and will simply give up. I think they benefit from their systems not being online and that's why they remain offline even now, when it's illogical for them to be so. 

      I used to work for the Benefits Agency, this is not even a "belief", it was just understood to be standard practice. They weren't fit for purpose, so that was how they "managed" the situation.
    • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
      Karen · 5 months ago
      @Pat The DWP only hear what they want to hear anyway. I have recordings of their staff screaming down the phone at me and telling me things that are blatantly untrue, and still repeating them even when I have pointed that out, refusing to let me speak, and clearly trying to intimidate and scare me, all in a very obvious attempt to try and bully and threaten me into confessing to crimes I have not actually committed.

      When I rightfully made a formal complaint about this, their findings were that "I" refused to listen to THEM, and that it was ME that treated their staff badly. They were as absolutely in the wrong as it is possible to be, and I had all of the evidence to prove it. They paid me compensation I might add, for the "distress" they had caused me, for breaking their own rules and investigating me twice within six months, based on knowingly false and malicious allegations, but still refused to acknowledge the appalling behaviour of their staff. 

      But since they don't appear to actually listen to the calls their staff make in any case, and are in the very firm habit of denying anything that happens on them, I'm not sure if it makes any difference. 
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