Charities raise concern at probate inquiry

The charity community has provided evidence in Parliament of the impact of delays on charities and legacy gifting. Representatives from The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Cancer Research UK and Devon Air Ambulance Trust shared insight into the impact of delays on charity services, forecasting ability and wider finances; as well as highlighting the huge personal impact on service users, many of whom are in need of support at times of emotional turmoil in their lives. 

An inquiry into the probate registry was launched in November 2023 in response to the significant delays being experienced by users. The deadline for written evidence was in January with the Justice Committee now inviting further evidence on capacity, resources and delays across the probate service and the impact of digitisation and centralisation, including the effectiveness of the online probate portal

Submitting evidence to the cross-party committee of MPs, the three panellists highlighted how delays at probate affect both beneficiaries and charities, particularly those that are reliant on funding from gifts in Wills. According to Legacy Foresight research, gifts in Wills currently raise around £4 billion for good causes annually, funding charity work community-based organisations across the country.

During the session Alex McDowell (Vice Chair of Remember A Charity and Director of Fundraising at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award), Angela Morrison (Chief Operating Officer, Cancer Research UK), and Dave Hawes (Director of Finance & Infrastructure, Devon Air Ambulance Trust and a Board member of the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM)) welcomed the recent improvements to the service, suggesting further improvements for long term change, including

  • Appropriate resourcing for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), enabling probate teams to upscale their services and meet rising demand as death rates climb, reflecting too on the growth of charitable gifts in Wills.
  • More publicly available data on the scale and scope of the backlog and ongoing workflow, including ‘stopped’ estates, to ensure that charities have the information needed to inform their forecasting.
  • Continued collaboration with the charity sector to ensure that any changes or proposed improvements reflect charities’ needs and have no unintended consequences on charities.

Speaking after the event, Alex McDowell, Vice Chair of Remember A Charity and Director of Fundraising at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, said:

“Charities are increasingly reliant on income from gifts in Wills, and any delays or problems at probate can have a significant impact not only on funding for vital charitable services and beneficiaries, but on charities’ ability to forecast their income and budget for the future.

“We’ve seen probate output levels improve significantly in recent months and that’s the chink of light that charities have been waiting for to enable them to shore up their support for beneficiaries at a time when demand for charitable services has never been higher. And now, for charities to be able to continue delivering such critical services, it is vital that the Probate Registry is equipped and resourced to manage the increasing number of cases at probate, without compromising on quality.”

Dave Hawes, Director of Finance & Infrastructure, Devon Air Ambulance Trust and a Board member of the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM), said:

“This was a welcome opportunity to explain why and how probate delays have impacted charities of all sizes right across the sector, which I’ve seen both as a director of Devon Air Ambulance and as a Board member of ILM.

“The probate service is crucial to ensure that people’s last wishes are followed and it’s important that HMCTS is able to support this in a timely manner both now and into the future.”

Remember A Charity and the Institute of Legacy Management have been working closely with HMCTS as part of the Probate Service Users Working Group, ensuring the impact of delays on charities is represented in key discussions and factored into ongoing service developments.

McDowell added:

“HMCTS has already committed to several steps to improve the probate ecosystem for charities, which includes provision of more information on cases in the system and an indicator to identify charitable estates in the system. We are grateful to the team for their continued support and recognition of just how crucial the probate service is for charities.”

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