The Post Office Horizon scandal has been exposed leading it to one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history and has angered the nation. Although, this story of sub-postmasters wrongly being prosecuted by the Post Office for theft and false accounting caused by Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon software was first reported several years ago it has taken a television drama to prompt real action. The subsequent public pressure has forced the government to fast-track resolutions including financial compensation packages for victims.
Over 10 million viewers have watched the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office and it is now one of the most watched programmes in the broadcaster’s history. I don’t ever recall a TV drama having such an effect on so many people. It’s certainly struck a raw nerve which led to over a million people signing an online petition demanding the Post Office’s former CEO, Paula Vennells hand back her CBE, which she duly did. So what was behind this level of outrage?
It’s hard not to feel immense sympathy for the sub-postmasters who have suffered and anger at those responsible. The British people are well known for their sense of fairness. We hate injustice, we hate bullies and we naturally lean towards supporting underdogs. These factors are all at play here and the scale and consequences the victims wrongly suffered only increase the public’s anger.
The fact that in this case it’s a government-owned corporate bully guilty of this behaviour just makes matters worse. Yes, we own it! Every time the Post Office wheeled out their expensive lawyers to try to conceal the truth and protect ‘the brand’, we were paying for them. We also paid performance bonuses and pensions to perceived fat cat board members boosted by money effectively stolen from the sub-postmasters forced to pay money they did not owe. It’s also of course UK taxpayers who are likely to have to stump up the lion’s share of the compensation package which has been estimated to be up to £1 billion as revealed at the ongoing public enquiry.
The Post Office is a stalwart of the high street. It’s hard to think of another organisation that was previously more trusted and respected but now that has been spectacularly shattered. It feels like a betrayal by a friend.
Another factor is that this scandal is so relatable. At least in some small way, we probably all have experience in trying to take on a big business. Perhaps you’ve worked for a large corporation and were unfairly dismissed but were advised not to pursue action against them due to their power. Or maybe in trying to return faulty goods to a retailer, questioning an invoice or complaining about a service not completed to your satisfaction. It feels like so many businesses make it difficult to even contact them, let alone complain and get redress.
If you go on the website of a large business you will probably struggle to find a telephone number or even an email address to contact. Firstly, you will probably be invited to tour the many irrelevant FAQs. The second barrier you will likely encounter is the Chatbot. This AI facility churns out pre-written statements based on your query and rarely resolves anything. Assuming you haven’t already stormed off in frustration you may be transferred to a Chatbox which at least gives you access to a human being. You may be lucky and if their English is up to the job you could get a resolution. Equally, you may get nowhere and give up. Which is no doubt what they want and the reason they make you jump through so many hoops.
If you do find the company’s phone number to ring don’t get your hopes up too soon. Firstly, I suggest you clear your diary for the rest of the day as there’s no knowing how long this could take. A typical scenario assuming you get through, is press 1 for this, press 2 for that, press 3 for something else etc. This will probably only get you through to the next tranche of options. While waiting you may have to endure listening to recorded messages telling you how much they value your call or how busy they are. Don’t be surprised if the line goes silent at some point. In my experience, this happens a lot. You’ve been cut off!
Try ringing the same company’s sales line. You’ll be amazed how quickly you get through. I regularly read about how many times more it costs a company to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. Yet they so often treat existing customers like rubbish, as in under-resourcing helplines and expecting them to hang on the phone for hours.
Let’s assume you don’t give up and you do get to speak to a reasonably articulate human. Hopefully, they will be apologetic see the error of their ways and do the right thing. After all, surely they want to keep your custom rather than losing it and you telling all your friends about your bad experience. However, too often they will dig their heels in and try and discredit you. At this point, I’m waiting for the line ‘Well nobody else has complained’ or ‘You’re the only one’ with this problem. I’m trying to be assertive without being aggressive but it’s at this point I feel like losing my rag as it’s a common tactic companies use to try and discredit you, it’s also irrelevant and probably a lie. I’m also not interested that you state you have millions of satisfied customers. Probably also a lie.
‘You’re the only one’ was the infamous line the Post Office helpline staff and investigators used against the sub-postmasters to isolate them and cause them to question their sanity, this we now know was nonsense. I’m sure we’ve all heard similar lines many times when trying to get a resolution to a problem when dealing with a big business. We’ve all had enough now!
We’re angry, we’re fed up with being treated like rubbish and we want something better. These are the kinds of feelings that I believe are largely behind the public reaction to the Post Office Horizon scandal which hopefully will lead to a legacy of positive change.