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Law Society reviews delays to the probate service

1 July 2019

We met with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) on 27 June to review how they have been addressing the issues impacting the probate service since we last met.

We appreciate our members and their clients have been concerned about the lack of information being made available by HMCTS.

We again pressed for improved communications with updates being consistent in frequency and content.

HMCTS have stated that the bulk of the work takes six to eight weeks to process.

To assuage the delays, HMCTS has asked that they only be contacted if you have an outlier beyond eight weeks.

In the meeting, HMCTS informed us that:

  • they have extra people working in probate, including legal advisers, who are focused on the issue end of the process
  • although there is a level of attrition in probate with regards to staffing, including loss of experience, they have kept the overall resource stable and have finite resource to train new staff
  • they are issuing grants at a higher rate and have issued around 45,000 grants since 25 March and the backlog is gradually decreasing
  • they are reallocating work between registries to help clear the back logs –some registries performances are better than others
  • applications are being processed in date order but can get out of sequence when they are moved so HMCTS is working to equalise the workload
  • grants will not revert back to Probate Man – in places such as Cardiff, grants are being issued using the old system, which is why some solicitors are seeing some grants come back in the old style and some in the new style
  • although there had been concerns raised regarding the bulk scanning provider, their incentives are focused on quality rather than speed, with the validity of the will being examined by HMCTS
  • they are aware of issues with the new grant – for example, where A and B are executors, but it is only shown as A’s application, this can exacerbate matters if they do not get along – and are looking at changing and improving these
  • there are no changes to the probate fees or confirmation as to when or if they are likely to come in
  • they have received significant interest from firms to test the online probate system for professional users and anticipate that an increase in digital applications will ameliorate the delays
  • any Ad Col grant applications will be treated as a priority and raised immediately with a registrar for a decision and subsequent action

We are continuing to monitor this situation and will arrange a further review meeting with HMCTS in August.

In the meantime, HMCTS will be hosting an online event on probate reform on Thursday 4 July from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

We encourage our members to register for this and submit any questions in advance to changesomethingthatmatters@justice.gov.uk.

Find out more about the event

HMCTS CEO Susan Acland-Hood will be giving evidence to the Justice Select Committee on 17 July as part of their inquiry into the court and tribunal reforms.

The inquiry is looking into the access to justice implications of the reform programme, including the increasing use of digital and video technology and the closure of courts and tribunal hearing centres.

Our head of justice, Richard Miller, gave evidence to the committee on 21 May where he highlighted our concerns in relation to the probate service.

Read the evidence from this session in full

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