HMCTS responds to issues with the probate service
Since our last user group meeting in April, members have been providing feedback indicating that the data shared by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) did not reflect the reality of using the probate service.
Common themes that emerged in the feedback relate to:
- estimated timescales and concerns about delays
- accessing the online service
- communication with HMCTS
- collaboration between HMCTS and HM Revenues & Customs (HMRC)
The overarching concern among members who’ve contacted us is that the management information (MI) data published by HMCTS does not reflect what’s happening in practice.
HMCTS declared that its workload increased significantly during the winter wave of the pandemic. Since the end of February there was a spike in documentation arriving and HMCTS mobilised extra staff to upload this to the relevant cases.
The date an item is signed for is the date that it is delivered to the HMCTS Harlow site. HMCTS has also assured us that it's now back to scanning items on receipt.
Recent performance update
For March to May, HMCTS had correctly predicted a second wave of increased intake for the probate service.
HMCTS has capacity to issue a minimum of 6000 grants a week. It’s training two new groups of examiners and issuers, which should help drive up the volumes of grants going out.
The recent MI data indicates that (from submission to grant issued) digital applications take:
- 11 weeks with stops
- four weeks with no stops (from document upload to grant it’s less than a week)
Paper applications (from submission to grant issued) take:
- 16 weeks with stops
- just under three weeks with no stops
Members have also reported applications being stopped in error, resulting in delays. When the stop is finally removed, these applications have not been prioritised, and instead re-enter a queue – suggesting that there does not appear to be a good procedure in place for dealing with stopped cases.
HMCTS is grateful for this feedback and acknowledges that applications stopped in error must be given a level of priority and presented to an examiner.
It recognises the opportunities to learn from these issues, and is looking at the contact from members on potential incorrect stops to identify any knowledge gaps – whether it’s an individual, group of people or newly trained examiners.
When you’re attaching information to resolve a stop, these are uploaded to the application within five days of receipt.
Attaching PDF cover letters to evidence
Every piece of evidence that you send to Harlow needs an attached PDF cover letter. These are pivotal for HMCTS to link documents to online applications.
If there is no cover letter – even though the case reference number might be within the documents – the evidence falls into an ‘exceptions queue’ to check which case it should be joining.
If you cannot print the PDF, a blank piece of paper with the case reference number on top of the document will suffice. This ensures your documents are matched to your case in a timely manner.
HMCTS is making some improvements to cover sheets, expected at the end of June. Cover sheets will be auto-populated with certain information, including the case reference. When you submit your case, the cover sheet should also have a reminder of what documents should be going with it.
Members have reported difficulty accessing MyHMCTS due to:
- repeated failure of access codes, or
- being diverted back to the login page despite entering the relevant details
HMCTS was aware of these issues and has assured us that they are now fixed.
If you’re still experiencing problems accessing the service, contact MyHMCTSsupport@justice.gov.uk.
Persistent issues tend to be due to security settings and firewalls on a user’s system or personal computer. HMCTS can arrange a session to help you resolve this.
How the online service works
We've listed the stages in the probate service process.
1. Case created
When an application is first logged via the online platform, it’s given a ‘case created’ status on the HMCTS system.
2. Print case
This is effectively HMCTS triaging, recognising that the application and associated fee have been received.
3. Awaiting documentation
At this stage, HMCTS assigns the payment via the Payment by Account (PBA) route, ensuring everything has been received, and sends the documents to the scanning providers.
4. Scanned documents
When the documents are scanned, they are linked up, due to the initial ‘print case’ action, and are put into a live queue of examining work.
Members have experienced difficulties contacting HMCTS, with:
- prolonged waiting times
- trouble getting useful progress updates to share with clients
To help reduce the response time HMCTS is recruiting more staff, as well as providing more training. HMCTS is also reviewing:
- the content of its standard letters that refer to affidavits
- communications on notifications to make sure these go out at the right points with the right content
When contacting the Probate Service by telephone, you’ll be put through to an agent who is not necessarily trained in all the legal aspects of the probate process. However, the agent can seek advice and support during the call to resolve your query, by referring to a probate-trained officer as necessary.
If your case needs to be progressed or reviewed, the agent can also refer to their team leader to allocate the case to an experienced probate examiner. Unfortunately, you cannot speak directly with an examiner at this time, due to resource constraints.
If your query relates to a paper application (which currently make up around a fifth of all applications), the information may not be visible on the system. In order to provide an update, HMCTS may need to refer your call back to the District Probate Registry – who should contact you before the end of the next working day.
Phone: 0300 303 5856 on weekdays from 8am to 6pm, and on Saturdays from 8am to 2pm
There have been concerns about conflicting information received from HMCTS and HMRC.
HMCTS has been working collaboratively with HMRC for most of this year. Recently, they’ve introduced a shared platform for all their inheritance tax forms. It’s hoped this will result in a smoother process by:
- reducing the number of emails received
- removing the need for manual searches
- reducing human error
We hope to have our next meeting at the end of June.
If you have any questions or concerns which you’d like us to raise, email firstname.lastname@example.org.