Court reform

Probate service update – July 2022

We summarise an update from HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the probate service user group about scanning issues, 'ad colligenda bona' applications and the best times to contact HMCTS.

This update covers:

Probate service performance

You’ve told us about differing performance levels, that is, some grants taking eight weeks to issue while others can be approved in shorter time frames, making it very difficult to predict and provide realistic timescales to clients.

Application processing times

In the latest management information (MI), the May figures for probate service performance show the total applications received was 22,791 while the number of grants issued was 25,096.

From submission to grant issued:

  • digital applications took 13.5 weeks when stopped and 4.1 weeks without stops
  • paper applications took 22.8 weeks when stopped and 8.9 weeks without stops

HMCTS appreciates more action is needed for paper applications. While these are more complex, HMCTS accepts there is no reason for the long waits, which are now creating demand in terms of phone calls.

HMCTS confirmed:

  • most paper applications are dealt with at probate registries
  • more staff are being trained and deployed to bring down both the stopped and the new applications, including upskilling Courts and Tribunals Service Centre (CTSC) staff around the more in-depth intestacy and 'Admon with Will' type queries

Stopped applications

Following enhancements to the service, HMCTS says it has seen month-on-month reductions in the number of applications it's had to stop first time round.

Stops continue to impact timeliness and HMCTS is concentrating on ways to drive these down, as well as looking at how it can make internal processes more efficient.

Scanning issues – call for feedback

We’ve recently been made aware of applications becoming delayed or stuck in the system due to the Ministry of Justice’s scanning partners.

One example also referred to the scanning company removing the binding from the will and scanning it without the binding. This resulted in a stop asking why the will had staple marks on it.

If you are experiencing similar issues, we’re keen to hear from you so we can find out how widespread the problem is.

Email your feedback to hmctscourtreform@lawsociety.org.uk.

Advice for practitioners

When to contact HMCTS

We continue to receive feedback from members about waiting times when contacting HMCTS.

Phone lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

HMCTS confirmed Monday is its peak day and Friday is the quietest.

For a shorter wait time, the best times to contact HMCTS (including via webchat) are 8am to 9am and 5pm to 6pm.

Quieter periods are usually from Tuesday to Thursday, between 8am to 10am and 4pm to 6pm.

(This is subject to demand and resource availability.)

Wait eight weeks

According to analysis, a large number of legal professionals and personal applicants are not waiting for the eight-week timeframe before contacting HMCTS to check their application progress.

HMCTS has said it needs to see what more can be done to stop users from doing this.

Inheritance tax

Waiting for inheritance tax (IHT) documentation remains the biggest stop.

If IHT needs to be paid, you should wait 20 working days before applying for the grant through MyHMCTS.

If you do not wait 20 working days or alter the submission date, there is a high risk your application will be delayed, and a stop created.

Confirmation receipts

There have been reports that some practitioners are still having to contact the CTSC about HMRC confirmation letters related to IHT receipt.

HMCTS has said that in England and Wales, where an IHT421 is issued, a letter is issued to all applicants to say this has been shared with HMCTS.

This letter should be received within 20 working days.

HMRC is interested to hear of examples where confirmation letters have not been received.  

'Ad colligenda bona' applications

Some concerns had been raised around 'ad colligenda bona' applications and HMCTS has committed to handling these.

In order for HMCTS to identify these urgent/exceptional application types, applicants should put “URGENT AD COLLIGENDA BONA” in the subject line of their email, and include:

  • case number
  • deceased details
  • where they sent the application (paper applications submitted to the Newcastle Registry)

HMCTS will call you/the applicant to confirm receipt of the email and application and advise on next steps, including any other information needed.

This will normally be within 48 hours of receiving and validating the application.

Proposed improvements to the service

In terms of the end-to-end probate journey, HMCTS has identified areas of improvement in the internal case management system to help with saving processing time.

Stopped applications: inheritance tax

HMCTS has started engaging with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) about possibly automating one of the data-sharing processes which could help improve IHT stop rates.

Documents required

HMCTS is looking at expanding its management information so that it can establish the types of documents required.

This should allow HMCTS to determine what enhancements to make and share the necessary comms with practitioners.

Missing documents

HMCTS has made changes for practitioners to make sure the checklist is more dynamic. It's currently tracking the changes to see what benefits they bring.

Redesigning forms PA1A and PA1P

HMCTS has finished user testing with personal applicants. It hopes the forms will be ready to use by the end of 2022.

The aim is to make the forms easier to use, including:

  • expanding the checklist to reduce delays 
  • introducing more questions around will condition

Our members have been reviewing the forms and providing feedback on the questions, layout and guidance. The feedback will also be used to help plan future improvements to the online service.

Next steps

We’re due to have our next meeting in September.

If you have any queries or suggestions on the probate service that you would like us to raise with HMCTS, email hmctscourtreform@lawsociety.org.uk.

HMCTS is looking into running a webinar on the changes/improvements made to the service which all probate practitioners will be able to access.

About the probate group

We meet regularly to discuss probate service issues with:

  • HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS)
  • STEP Society (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners)
  • Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE)
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
  • Institute of Legacy Management

Take a look at our update from the March 2022 meeting

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