We convened a meeting between HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and some of our key stakeholders on Tuesday 14 May to discuss the ongoing delays to the probate service.
We challenged the national director at HMCTS to explain the current situation and, more importantly, provide reassurances, where possible, of the steps being taken to address these problems.
HMCTS informed us that:
- registries are no longer using the Probate Man service and have instead moved on to a new case data management system which they believe will bring improvements to the service in the long term. This move necessitated a period of training
- there were wider, unexpected, technical issues across the HMCTS probate infrastructure which took this new system offline for four days
- they acknowledge there has been an increase in applications following uncertainty around the implementation of the new probate fee structure
- the level of enquiries coming into registries has also diverted resources away from addressing the current backlog
- they acknowledge that cases are taking up to 30 working days to be processed at the moment, which is not as good as earlier in the year
These issues combined have meant that the period of transition has not been as smooth as HMCTS would have hoped for.
While they apologised to solicitors and applicants for the delays to the service, we highlighted the need for improved and clear communications between local registries and service users as well as wider, regular updates from HMCTS directly.
In the meantime, they will:
- increase resources to address the backlog of applications
- review how to improve the IT system to ensure data is used as effectively as possible
- run a recruitment exercise to bring more firms on to test the online probate system - email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in taking part. HMCTS anticipate an increase in digital applications will ease the strain on registries over the next 12 months
- work hard to ensure they are processing as much work as is coming in each day
- review cases of reported errors in issued grants
We have serious concerns that further resources will be needed to have a tangible impact on the service, particularly to address any staff shortages over the summer months.
We are also aware that HMRC have been in contact with executors to request payment, and interest.
We will raise this with HMRC and have pressed HMCTS to improve their communications with other government departments to ensure clarity for applicants, particularly lay executors.