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Law Society demands ‘tangible improvements’ to probate service

By Jemma Slingo >>

The Law Society is pushing for ‘tangible improvements’ to the probate service and automatic refunds for users if standards slip, in response to government plans to increase probate fees.

Under proposals published by the Ministry of Justice in July, fees to apply for a grant of probate will increase from £155 and £215 – for probate professionals and individuals respectively – to a flat fee of £273 for all applicants.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce questioned why the government has chosen now to increase fees. ‘Court closures, the digitisation strategy and increased fees across various court jurisdictions have already produced savings and income for the court systems,’ she said.

‘Any hike in fees now must reflect new and tangible improvements made to the service. At the very least, a commitment from the UK government that revenue from this increase will be used for probate service improvements.’

Boyce said the government should automatically reimburse a percentage of the fee if the handling of an application falls below an acceptable standard, and that there should be a periodic review of fees once the immediate effects of the pandemic have settled.

‘It is no secret the probate service has faced delays for people applying for probate grants or letters of administration. In 2020, people had to wait 12 to 14 weeks on average to receive their grant,’ Boyce said. ‘This is unacceptable, the service must be timely and allow executors to settle a loved one’s estate without additional burden during an already difficult time.’

Solicitors have also reported issues with the online probate system, communication issues with HMCTS, errors on issued grants and property transactions that have been impacted due to delays in grant of probate. According to the Law Society, the service experienced an unexpected loss of staff in the spring which hit its performance.

The government said it currently costs HM Courts & Tribunals Service more to process probate applications than the fees it receives, meaning the service operates at a loss and places a burden on the taxpayer in the form of subsidising the processing of probate applications. It said a deficit of £85m currently exists in family jurisdiction services and that the proposals will raise between £23m and £25m each year from 2022.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)