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‘I went bankrupt because of Post Office Horizon scandal – now I’m 65 and looking for a part-time job after selling my home, and receivers want to take most of my compensation’

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Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

5 min read time

At the age of 65, having recently sold his house for some much-needed funds, former subpostmaster Stefan Fountain is currently on the lookout for a part-time job.

Twenty-two years after taking over a Post Office in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire – a job he thought would be ‘for life’ – he is thinking about how he starts again, and how he gets by week to week.

Mr Fountain says he ‘got out’ of life as a sub-postmaster as quickly as he could when he saw ‘impending disaster’ ahead, with his accounts showing increasing, unexplained losses every week.

He took out a loan, his wife sold her car, and they sold the Post Office at a significant loss, after just two years in charge. At that point, he thought he’d escaped, but it proved to be the beginning of a life of struggle.

He was declared bankrupt, and then, struggling to make ends meet, had to remortgage his home, taking an interest-only mortgage of £168,000, with payments rising from £300 a month with a few years remaining, to £600 a month for the next 20 years.

That interest-only mortgage deal ended last year, and unable to pay the full amount to keep it, he sold his home and found rented accommodation.

Now, Mr Fountain has been left reeling again, having received an offer for compensation, through the Post Office’s Historical Shortfall Scheme which would leave him with just over £4,000 in damages for two decades of struggle.

This is because he has been told around £20,000 of the damages being offered to him will go to official receivers, on behalf of people he owned money to when he was declared bankrupt all those years ago.

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‘It has left me angry and bitter’

It’s appalling, I just can’t comprehend how they can do this to people,” said Mr Fountain, of Brighouse, West Yorkshire.

I get quite angry and bitter when I think about it, as I’ve had to struggle all of my life due to the failings of the Horizon system, and yet still I am treated like this.

I was a subpostmaster when Horizon was installed in branches, and my accounts were soon showing shortfalls. I got no help at all and it was such a worry that I just decided to get out. We had to balance the books to do that so I took a loan and my wife sold her car. We just sold up and left, but were left in an awful situation financially.

It ended up with me being advised to declare myself bankrupt. A couple of years later I had to remortgage my home, and that saddled me with big payments and £160,000 debt.

Now I’ve sold my house and here I am today, at 65, looking for a new part-time job to get by. It is all because of what happened to me as a subpostmaster, yet I’m told my compensation offer is only worth £24,000, and only £4,000 of that will come to me. The offer is a pittance compared to my true losses.

They’ve made no consideration of the impact Horizon had on my life, and that of my wife who went through it all with me until she passed away a couple of years ago. At present, I don’t even stand to get the £12,000 back I put in to balance the books.

Legal firm continues to pursue compensation for victims

Mr Fountain is one of hundreds of former subpostmasters represented by Hudgell Solicitors in the ongoing fight for fair compensation.

The firm is negotiating with the Post Office on behalf of more than 70 former subpostmasters who were wrongfully convicted of crimes relating to accounts shortfalls, claiming compensation for malicious prosecution, following the overturning of their convictions in courts.

To date, just two of those cases have been settled out of court, whilst the others remain in negotiation.

Hudgells is also advising a large number of people who, like Mr Fountain, were not convicted of crimes, but were financially affected by the Horizon Scandal.

It is doing this by reviewing offers of damages made to them through the Post Office ‘Historical Shortfall Scheme’.

In a statement yesterday, Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that as of 30 November, 93% of eligible claimants to the scheme had been issued compensation offers, totalling £70.8 million.

However, Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, says behind those headline figures, lie deep concerns. He said:

Like in Stefan’s case, we have found that a large number of people have received offers for compensation via the Historical Shortfall Scheme which simply do not reflect the amount of suffering caused.

We also have this appalling situation, such as in Stefan’s case, where damages are mostly being paid to the Official Receivers where people were made bankrupt, though no fault of their own, and directly as a consequence of the failings of the Post Office. They should take the lead to sort this out, without further lengthy delay.

We are also seeing many cases through the Historical Shortfall Scheme where various heads of claim have not been considered and included, such as the psychological impact of worrying about losses, losing their Post Office and income, being dismissed, or for having previously paid amounts to the Post Office to cover alleged shortfalls, which of course were never really there in the first place.

It is imperative that people seek an expert legal assessment of the offers made to them to ensure the damages being offered reflect the suffering caused, and to ensure proper compensation is being paid to people for the wrong wrought on them all those years ago.

If you were affected by the Post Office Horizon Scandal and are yet to secure justice, call our team today or email [email protected]

Read more: Post Office Horizon Legal Representation

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