Ministers have been told that a planned increase in probate fees should not go ahead while grieving families face months of delays to gain control of inherited money and property.
The Government is set to increase fees to a flat-rate £273 for all applicants, no matter the size of the estate, which will mean the cost of probate – the process of administering an estate following a person’s death – will rise from £155 for those who use a solicitor and from £215 for those who act as an individual.
The Ministry of Justice argues the £273 will not generate any state profit, and only covers the costs of processing probate applications. However, the plan has been criticised by Conservative backbenchers, who say it penalises grieving relatives for what is already a sub-par service. Conservative MP and part-time solicitor, John Stevenson, warned of a “very significant deterioration” in the Probate Service, stating: “I do not think it is right that members of the public and professional practitioners should be paying for a poor-quality service.”
In a submission to a consultation on increasing the probate application fee, Mr Stevenson stated that in principle he agreed the price should be increased to cover the full costs. But he added: “The service itself must improve significantly.”
The MoJ admitted that bereaved relatives were waiting more than nine weeks on average for probate to be granted in cases where officials had “stopped” their application to request more documents, or because they had identified alleged errors. However, officials insisted that in other cases the average wait was around one week.
The Courts and Tribunal Service said more than three-quarters of probate applications were done online and took 5.3 weeks, a speed increase of a week compared to a year ago. Officials said the hike in fees would actually save the taxpayer money by making the service self-sufficient without the need for external funding.
The HM Courts & Tribunals Service’s deputy director, Adam Lennon, admitted that the probate service “could be improved”. Following a case highlighted by a broadsheet paper, in which a man whose application for probate in relation to his late father had been outstanding for 11 weeks, Mr Lennon also said it would no longer be a requirement for applicants to send a death certificate for previous executors who had died.