‘I make less than minimum wage from my post office’

'I make less than minimum wage from my post office'
Sara Barlow

Sub-postmasters across the country have told the BBC of the financial hardships they face trying to make a living running their post offices.

One woman said she made less than the minimum wage, while another said pouring thousands of pounds of her own money into the business had left her in debt and at risk of losing her home.

They also spoke of continuing problems with the Horizon IT system.

The Post Office said it was doing all it could to help postmasters.

But in an internal staff survey conducted last year, only 28% of those who responded said they thought it had their best interests at heart.

The Post Office was once one of the UK’s most trusted brands, but the Horizon scandal has changed that, when faulty software made it look like money was missing from branches, resulting in hundreds of sub-postmasters and mistresses wrongfully prosecuted.

Over recent weeks, since ITV aired a drama about the scandal, current sub-postmasters have told the BBC of the daily struggles to keep their branches running.

‘Time is running out’

Sara Barlow runs the post office on a busy village corner in Rainhill, on the outskirts of Liverpool.

Her shop walls are lined with cards, wrapping paper, and birthday balloons.

She’s been here for five years and says that from her very first day, with the auditor watching over her shoulder, there was a shortfall in the Horizon computer system.

“That was not what I had signed up for. We’d signed up to run a nice little local business in a lovely community. From night one I was like ‘what have I done?!'”

There’s a constant stream of customers but Sara says that even in a busy branch like hers, it’s very difficult to make any money without the shop business subsidising it.

As a founder member of the Voice of the Postmaster support group, she’s been hearing from others who are now using foodbanks.

She says in recent weeks and months the Post Office head office has been engaging more, but nothing’s really changed.

“We need something within the next couple of weeks. Time is running out, time’s definitely running out,” she says, adding that despite being responsible for huge sums of money she takes home less than the minimum wage.

“There are plenty of busy main branches in busy areas that aren’t making a profit.”

‘I will end up sleeping on my mum’s couch’

Marlene Wood

Around 250 miles north in the village of Comrie in Perthshire, Marlene Wood says she has reached the end of her tether.

“There is no basic salary,” she says. “We’re paid per transaction. The amount that we get to sell a first class stamp is 6p, so think how many first class stamps you’re going to have to sell in order to make a very basic living.”

After pouring hours of work and thousands of pounds into the business over the last five years, Ms Wood has now put her post office up for sale.

She says the Horizon system produces faulty readings every week. She’s in debt and at risk of losing her home.

“I moved here thinking that I was going to run a post office in a beautiful village. But the reality of it is that I have spent all our money propping it up, to keep it going.”

Residents of Comrie have started a fundraising page to help her keep the business open.

“I have no money,” she says. “My marriage has finished. I will probably end up sleeping on my mum’s couch at the age of 53, because the reality is that no-one will want to buy. It’s just toxic. Totally toxic.”

‘We’ve got to rebuild trust in the Post Office’

Stuart Rogers

At the other end of the UK, in the small town of Ashburton on the outskirts of Dartmoor, Stuart Rogers has been trying novel approaches to make sure his post office turns a profit.

Mr Rogers has converted an old van into a mobile post office that travels to farms and villages nearby.

He has also revamped the upstairs of his building.

“We’re the first post office in the country to have a banking facility, a library facility, and a post office in the same location,” he says.

All the money invested was his own – and he says it was the only way to make his business viable.

“Although it brings no revenue, the hub and the library bring footfall and we need to convert that footfall into transactions.”

The frustration for Mr Rogers is that despite the time and effort he’s putting in, the Horizon scandal is making his customers nervous.

“People have lost trust in the Post Office and we’ve got to rebuild that trust,” he says.

The Post Office told the BBC: “This is a challenging retail climate at present and it’s right that we prioritise our limited funding at areas that will have the biggest impact for the most number of customers.

“We are doing all we can to drive footfall and remuneration opportunities for today’s postmasters.

“With regards to any discrepancies, postmasters should call our branch support centre for them to resolve.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

By David Ryckman