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Government U-turns on probate fees hike

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Ministry of Justice has abandoned its plan to increase probate fees, following widespread backlash to the proposals.

Ministers planned to introduce a sliding scale of fees, with costs linked to the gross value of an estate. The move would have seen estates worth £2m or more pay probate fees of £6,000, a £5,845 (3,770 per cent) rise. More modest estates worth between £50,000 and £300,000 would have seen a £95 rise. However, the smallest estates would avoid fees altogether.

The proposals  lead to claims that the fees were a “stealth tax” and that estates were being “doubled-taxed”. Critics argued that the cost of administering a grant of probate is the same regardless of the size of an estate.

Several newspapers ran campaigns for the plans to be axed and the Ministry of Justice has now confirmed the project has been abandoned.

It said probate fees will now be reviewed as part of its annual assessment of civil and family court costs and charges.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, but we have listened carefully to concerns around changes to those charged for probate and will look at them again as part of a wider review to make sure all fees are fair and proportionate.”

The government previously justified the fee increase by saying it was “a fair and more progressive way to pay for probate services” and said the fees would never be more than 0.5 per cent of the value of the estate. Ministers estimated the fee hike would raise an additional £185m a year by 2022-23 and said the money would be used to help fund the courts.

However, some MPs questioned whether the plans were lawful, as government departments cannot levy charges in excess of the service they provide without special permissions. Some MPs described the move as an “abuse of power”.

Emily Deane, technical counsel at STEP (the professional body for inheritance and trust advisors) said: “STEP welcomes the news that the government has decided to scrap the proposed increase in probate fees. This follows many months of work by STEP and many others to highlight the unfairness of the proposed increase, which amounted to a stealth tax on the bereaved. This at last brings an end to the uncertainty and worry that these proposals have caused to grieving families.”

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