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Ministry of Justice needs to take “urgent action” on digital probate delays

The Ministry of Justice claims it has taken “urgent action” to solve the digital probate delays issue, according to the Justice Minister.

Simon Hart, Conservative MP, had written Parliamentary questions regarding the new digital probate platform, which is causing delays of up to thirteen weeks for solicitors, according to practitioners.

Paul Maynard, Justice Minister, said: “Urgent action has been taken to address the delays which have been experienced in the probate service.

“Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is increasing staffing levels and further improving the digital service to help reduce waiting times.”

The introduction of the digital probate system was initially intended to be rolled out alongside a change in probate fees. However, the proposed change to the fee structure was then postponed.

The change would have resulted in fees being removed from application for probate for estates with a value of less than £50,000, which is a significant increase from the current threshold of £5,000.

However, for other estates over the threshold, the standard charge of £215 for individuals (£155 if the application is made by a solicitor) is due to be changed to a banded system.

The fees will be determined by which band the value of the estate falls into, with the largest estates being charged £6,000, and this fee will be payable by widows and charities otherwise exempt from death duties.

Experts believe that the proposed probate fee rise (regarded by nearly all commentators as a stealth tax) resulted in a sharp increase in the number of applications, with the intention of beating the introduction of the planned changes.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, said: “Our new online service is making probate simpler and more convenient for bereaved people.

“Some grants are experiencing delays of 2-4 weeks and we are working hard to bring waiting times down further. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

However, the experience of solicitors (who handle the vast majority of probate applications) is at odds with what the MOJ claims for the digital rollout.  Solicitors are reporting delays of up to thirteen weeks, compared to the average of two weeks that applications were taking prior to the reform.

As part of the reform package, the local district registries are being closed and all the work moved to a single centralised hub.

It might be no coincidence that a similar set of reforms with a centralised service being introduced for divorce work has resulted in turnaround times for petitions to be issued increase from just a few days to several weeks.

Any urgent remedial action claimed to have been taken by the MOJ will have to pay dividends with more sensible turnaround times if the MOJ is to be believed. The proof of the pudding…

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David Webb

David Webb

Director - Head of Wills, Probate & Older Client Services
I specialise in probate and the administration of estates, trust and tax planning, preparation of Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney and Court of Protection applications.

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