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Legal News | 27.08.19

Delays in the Probate System

Delays in the probate system

The year began with the announcement that the probate service would be closing various probate registries and moving to a new computerised system, aimed at streamlining the probate application process. However, as the year has gone by it has become clear that the transition is not going to happen smoothly.

Three key factors are affecting the service that the probate registries are currently providing:

1. HMRC, with whom the probate registries must liaise in order to issue a Grant where an estate is subject to Inheritance Tax, has confirmed that the introduction of the computerised system, three months ago, has not been smooth. Glitches in the IT system have stalled the progress of applications at HMRC which has caused a significant backlog of applications, leading to an extensive delay in HMRC confirming receipt of Inheritance Tax payments. This in turn delays the issue of Grants by the probate registry.

2. The chaos currently surrounding the probate system has been exacerbated by the threatened increase in probate fees that was expected at the beginning of April 2019. The proposal to increase fees from a fixed rate of £155 per application is still awaiting Parliamentary approval, so is yet to come into force. At present, we do not know when the increase will take effect, however, when these revised fees are introduced, they will be as follows:

Value of EstateFees payable to obtain Grant of Probate
£50,000 – £300,000 £250
£300,000 – £500,000£750
£500,000 – £1 million£2,500
£1 million – £1.6 million£4,000
£1.6 million – £2 million£5,000
More than £2 million£6,000

The only good news is that for estates worth less than £50,000 there will be no fee under the new regime

The threat of these significantly higher fees has led to a rush of applications for grants. The delays were discussed in the House of Lords on 12 June 2019, where it was noted that there had been a 22% increase in the amount of applications in March and April.

3. There has been a centralisation of probate registries in a bid to enhance the digitisation of the probate service. This means there is a reduced number of staff, and therefore expertise, available to deal with the applications. Additionally, the introduction of the new IT system has meant that more training has been put in place for staff, reducing the amount of time they have to work on applications.

The result is that all probate registries continue to experience significant delays in issuing Grants and, in some cases, applicants are waiting up to 16 weeks for a Grant to be issued.

It is to be hoped that as the glitches in the new computer systems are resolved, the remaining probate registries will clear the existing backlog of applications, and the timescale for receiving Grants should improve. In the meantime, we will continue to do all we can to submit applications as promptly as possible and once submitted, to chase both HMRC and the probate registries to issue the Grants as swiftly as possible.

Of course, if you have any questions regarding the process, then please do get in touch with your usual contact at Wansbroughs or contact wealth@wansbroughs.com.