Over the weekend, the lord chancellor confirmed that the government’s proposals to raise fees charged for a grant of probate have been officially scrapped.
This is a victory for the Law Society, as we had been campaigning against the proposed fees.
The fee hike had already been put on hold following the prorogation of parliament, but the announcement means that the controversial policy will not be revived.
Under the government’s proposals in the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order, probate fees would have risen from the current fixed fee of £215 – or £155 with a solicitor – to a sliding scale of fees of up to £6,000 depending on the size of the estate.
The order was originally tabled in November 2018 and the new fees were intended to be introduced in April 2019.
However, amidst pressure from the Law Society and opposition from the public and MPs the plans were never brought to a vote in the House of Commons.
During our campaign, our arguments against the fee hike were cited in parliament 13 times, and were featured in 26 pieces of national media coverage, including pieces by Sky News, the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph.
We also launched a campaign tool in February 2019 allowing members and the public to write to their local MPs urging them to oppose the fee increase – in total 2,624 people wrote to their MPs using the tool.
We argued that the fee hike was a tax on grief, with the recently bereaved expected to bear the brunt of funding shortfalls across the courts system.
The plans could have caused significant cashflow problems for many, with people who are asset rich but cash poor – such as pensioners and farmers – likely to be hit especially hard.
We also objected to the plans on the grounds that they represented a misuse of the lord chancellor’s power to levy fees.
The disproportionate level of the proposed fees would have effectively amounted to a stealth tax, and the use of a statutory instrument to implement them – a route that allows less parliamentary scrutiny than formal legislation – would have set a dangerous precedent for future tax rises.
Nonetheless, significant delays in grants of probate, in part caused by a rush of applications seeking to avoid the proposed fee hike, remain of concern.
We are pushing HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to take action to address these delays, which in some cases are weeks longer than the six-to-eight-week delays estimated by the courts service.
Law Society president Simon Davis has written an opinion piece for the Law Society Gazette on the delays and the conversations we have been having with HMCTS about them.
The lord chancellor also announced that the Ministry of Justice will conduct a wider review of court fees, which will involve only “small adjustments to cover costs”.
No further details of this review have yet been released, but we look forward to an opportunity to contribute to the review.
Read our press release
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