'I sunk my entire life savings into the Post Office and now I'm trapped'

Postmaster Susan Craddock was never accused of theft herself but says the Horizon IT scandal has 'cost her everything'.

A woman who sunk her entire life savings into a Post Office branch in North Ayrshire says she’s “trapped” in a dwindling business.

The Horizon IT scandal – dubbed “the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history” – has prompted some people to say they’ll boycott the Post Office, as a show of support of wrongly-accused sub-postmasters.

However, as the majority of them are small independent business owners, unions are warning such action could “endanger the existence” of branches.

Susan Craddock, who runs a Post Office in Largs, says that while she was never accused of theft herself, she still feels working for the Post Office in the aftermath of the Horizon IT scandal has “cost her everything”.

She told STV News: “You’re trying to scrape a living and trying to keep the staff on, and it’s a constant battle.

“I’ve borrowed from my savings until I’ve no savings left. I’ve given everything to this job.

“Now people are saying things like ‘I’m never going to use the Post Office again’, and that’s only going to hurt us. My wages this month compared to last year look awful. It’s a constant worry.”

The Post Office routinely denied there were any problems with the software that saw sub-postmasters wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters are still awaiting compensation despite the UK Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

But Susan says current postmasters like her feel the payments are coming out of their pockets.

She added: “Nick Read, Post Office CEO, said we couldn’t get a pay rise because they needed the money to pay for the Horizon scandal.

“Postmasters really are the bottom of the heap, and we just have to take what’s given. Every time you think you’ve heard the worst thing, you hear something even worse.

“I don’t want to be rich, I just want a fair wage for what I do.”

Horizon, the tech firm behind the faulty software, still holds about £1.4bn of active contracts with the UK Treasury.

The faulty Horizon software was provided to the Post Office by the Japanese company Fujitsu.

Despite the scandal, the Fujitsu contract was meant to expire in 2023 but has been extended twice since then in deals worth more than £95m.

The Post Office has said it will begin trialling a new system in branches this year but Horizon has to continue in use until they are 100% ready to switch it off.

Susan said: “We’re all just at the mercy of Horizon. We’re all just frightened to press that button, to declare the cash, to see what it’s going to come up and say.

“We’re trapped that’s for sure. Nobody would buy a Post Office in a million years these days with the things going on.”

Calum Greenhow, from the National Federation of SubPostmasters, said: “We cannot ignore what happened to our colleagues in the past. They deserve to have compensation made available to them as quickly as possible, but at the same time we cannot make victims of postmasters today.

The post office is a place where you can actually go in and actually speak to a person, and we have to do everything we can to protect that.”

A Post Office spokesperson said: “This is a challenging economic climate for many retailers and we recognise postmasters, like all retailers, have had to deal with increases in energy costs and the living wage, which has impacted their bottom line.

“Our focus has been on driving footfall to our branches. Last year, for the first time in our 360-year history, non-Royal Mail delivery services with DPD and Evri were made available at 4,500 Post Offices.

“Many of our branches are the only place where people can do everyday banking and we increased remuneration for handling cash deposits by 20% last year.

“We have worked with more than one in four postmasters to support them in identifying opportunities to improve their overall branch performance via a ‘branch MOT’, delivering postmasters with approximately £13,000 per year in potential savings.

“We’ve supported postmasters to make positive changes, where needed, based on transactional, commercial and product-level data alongside real-world projections such as location, footfall and staffing.” 

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