Horizon: Ministers to work with Fujitsu on compensation costs but has no plans for law to tell citizens of government IT errors

Members of both houses continue to grill ministers over issues including the costs of compensation and the risk that the statute of limitations could prevent litigations being pursued by victims

Fujitsu accepts its “moral obligation” to provide funding to compensate victims of the Horizon scandal and will work with government to determine how much of the bill should be footed by taxpayers, a minister has claimed.

Malcolm Offord, a Conservative peer who serves as a junior minister in the Department for Business and Trade, said that the “the extent of Fujitsu’s culpability for the scandal will not be clear” until the ongoing public inquiry into Horizon concludes and releases its final report.

But the technology firm that delivered the malfunctioning Post Office IT platform has acknowledged its liability in the matter and a willingness to chip in to the cost of compensating the victims, Offord added.

“Ministers have made clear that the taxpayer should not have to meet all the costs of the scandal,” he said. “In the light of such comments Fujitsu have recently apologised publicly for their role in the scandal and have accepted that they have a moral obligation to contribute to its costs. The government welcomes these statements and will continue to discuss matters with Fujitsu.”

The total amount paid out to Horizon victims so far is £122m, according to government’s latest figures.

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Offord’s comments were made in response to a written parliamentary question from Frank Field – a former Labour MP who now sits as a crossbench peer. His was one of many questions on the Horizon scandal that government continues to field from members of both houses of parliament, as well as from a press and public whose interest in the matter has increased following the broadcast of an ITV dramatisation.

Labour peer Prem Nath Sikka asked whether the government would “introduce legislation to require government departments to inform those affected of any errors and flaws found in the computer information systems that they operate”.

In response, Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, a minister of state in the Cabinet Office, indicated that government does not currently intend to introduce such a law.

“There are no plans to introduce new legislation to inform affected citizens of errors in computing and information systems operated by the government,” she said. “There is existing legislation in the UK General Data Protection Regulation pertaining to personal data which protects individuals.”

Sikka also quizzed government about whether Ernst & Young – which is expected to be asked to give evidence to the Horizon public inquiry – is likely to face further formal action for its role in providing external audit services to the Post Office while the scandal was unfolding.

Offord responded: “The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) is responsible for investigations of possible audit failures in cases of major public interest. The FRC is aware of possible questions as to the audit work conducted at the Post Office during the period in which issues arose with the Fujitsu Horizon system and is continuing to monitor developments in this case.”

The DBT minister also responded to another question from Sikka asking whether government would pass new laws “to ensure that the statute of limitations does not prevent [Horizon victims] from bringing litigation against any party associated with it”.

“The government are confident that the statute of limitations will not have the effect which the… question implies,” Offord responded.

Sam Trendall

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