Tuesday 24 March 2020

EXCLUSIVE: First high court settlement payments land

A claimants' bank account showing the pending deposit
Claimant Subpostmasters who won an epic High Court case against the Post Office last year have begun to receive thousands of pounds "early" to help with cashflow during the coronavirus outbreak.

The 555 claimants in the Bates v Post Office case settled for a sum of £57.75m on 11 December last year. Five days later they were  told legal costs had swallowed at least £46m. Since then individual claimants have been waiting to find out what portion of the remaining £11m or so they will receive, weighted according to their specific circumstances.

Today's payments, many of which are in the single figure thousands (though some are in the hundreds and a few are £10k), are not final sums but emergency payments provoked by the coronavirus "to help to ease some of the financial pressure on you in the current circumstances."

Freeths told claimants their specific, individual amounts are:
"a fixed payment based upon categories of claimants, which is defined by the circumstances of their claim... Your payment category is based on certain legal factors, which is the fairest way to do this at short notice. The Emergency Payment you receive is not necessarily an indication of the size of your proportionate share – it will be at least the amount of your proportionate share but it may be that you are set to receive more."
A source close to the steering group tasked with apportioning the funds was at pains to point out that the payments are not proportionally representative of what some Subpostmasters might get in their final settlement, but acknowledged, for some, it could be the maximum they will get.

If the 555 claimants were to share £11.75m equally they would all get just over £21,000 each, however the final range of sums will vary considerably. A few claimants are serving Subpostmasters in dispute over a few thousand pounds, others have had their lives ruined, lost their savings and went to prison.

Final payments by June 2020

Over the last three months some postmasters have expressed anger at what they consider to be the relative paucity of the overall settlement and their concern at the time it is taking to receive any money at all.

One claimant who received £1000 today said: "Is this some sort of cruel joke? This is just rubbing salt in very raw wounds!”

In an email dated 20 March, Freeths tell the claimants:
"there are still aspects of the Settlement Agreement that are being concluded (for example in relation to currently suspended Claimants and Claimants with civil judgments/charging orders by Post Office to be dealt with) and so we cannot pay out everyone’s full share until all aspects of the settlement have been concluded – we are still aiming for June 2020 for this but should this change for any reason we will let you know."
Emotions amongst claimants since the settlement of the court case have been mixed. Nonetheless today is significant, as it marks the first time some postmasters have received any financial redress in nearly two decades of campaigning.

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