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Law Society criticises probate fee increase

Written by: Emma Lunn
The independent professional body for solicitors says any increase in probate fees should reflect new and tangible improvements to the service.

The Ministry of Justice plans to hike fees for probate applications with just one flat fee regardless of whether an individual or their solicitor applies for probate. The current fees are £155 for professional users and £215 for non-professional users. Under the proposals, these would change to one single probate fee of £273 for all applications.

Stephanie Boyce, Law Society president, said: “While we support the MoJ’s overall aim to make a simpler, more streamlined process for users of the probate service, and we understand funds are needed to facilitate this, we do question why the UK government has decided to increase fees at this time.”

In July, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) reported it had received 15,965 digital probate applications and 6,883 paper applications, a total of 22,848 applications. That same month, 22,375 grants of probate were issued.

Boyce added: “Court closures, the digitisation strategy and increased fees across various court jurisdictions have already produced savings and income for the court systems. 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.

“In 2020, the probate application service moved almost entirely online. Once this becomes the norm and once the immediate effects of the pandemic have settled, we recommend the UK government reviews the fees on a periodic basis.

“The UK government should also implement a minimum service level standard for applications. If the service drops below that standard on an individual application, then there should be an automatic reimbursement of a percentage of the fee.”

People applying for probate grants or letters of administration have faced delays since the pandemic took hold. In 2020, people had to wait an average of 12 to 14 weeks to receive probate – the Law Society says this is ‘unacceptable’.

It says the service must be timely and allow executors to settle a loved one’s estate without additional burden during an already difficult time.

Law Society members have complained about issues with the online probate system, communication issues with HMCTS, and errors on issued grants. The society pointed out that property transactions have been impacted due to delays in grant of probate.

Boyce said: “The service also experienced an unexpected loss of staff in the spring which hit its performance. To avoid a similar reoccurrence, it will be important for HMCTS to ensure they have sufficient resources, with the necessary knowledge and expertise, to handle probate matters.

“It is vital that HMCTS addresses the service issues as a matter of urgency and makes the necessary improvements to provide a service which both legal professionals and citizens have confidence in, before the new fee is introduced.”

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