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Law Society reviews delays to the probate service

Last updated: 19 August 2019

We are aware that delays to the probate service continue and we are keeping the pressure on HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to resolve the problem.

The Law Society, along with STEP and SFE, will be meeting with HMCTS on 10 September to review matters.

We met with 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
  • HMRC would not be able to apply a ‘credit’ or write off any interest that is due in relation to IHT payments. Customers can make a payment on account at any point and, despite funds not being readily available from some of these assets until probate is granted, there are other methods of funds being raised to make this payment

In the meantime, HMCTS hosted an online event on probate reform on 4 July that discussed current issues and introduced the project's future plans.

Watch a recording of the event and read the Q&As

The Justice Select Committee is holding an inquiry which 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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