Probate court delays: Inquiry findings

The sudden announcement of the General Election abruptly halted the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the delays faced by users of the Probate Courts (HMCTS) in England and Wales.

In a published letter, it was highlighted that the primary reasons for the collapse of the probate service were HMCTS’s failure to “understand the magnitude of the centralisation and digitisation projects they had undertaken and the failure to appreciate the importance of an experienced and skilled workforce”.

Historically, the service managed to handle surges in demand, including the record high of 311,202 applications in 2006, which exceeded the numbers seen during the pandemic.

Delays in granting probate have been linked to significant financial impacts, including £214 million in lost revenue for councils and budgetary uncertainties for charities. The now-disbanded House of Commons Justice Select Committee’s probate inquiry found that delays prolong bereavement for families and contribute to financial hardships.

Committee Chair Sir Robert Neill urged the release of more data to improve transparency and aid organisations working closely with HMCTS. Better data sharing would enable charities to create robust financial forecasts and help councils address issues related to empty homes and care home debts.

Cancer Research, for example, had to delay 44 projects due to probate delays. Neill stated that publishing more data would prevent practitioners from being unfairly blamed for delays and assist various sectors in mitigating the negative impacts.

4 Responses

  1. I wonder how much it cost to state the obvious.
    I would have told them free of charge, and I dare say every other reader would have too.

  2. Stephen Pett has hit the nail on the head. Closing local probate offices and the obsession with digitalisation and centralisation, and the sacking of knowledgeable and experienced staff, was an act of crass stupidity.
    A similar policy has produced similar results in the Land Registry (where it sometimes takes two years or more to achieve a registration).

  3. The probate registry is a problem but in my experience, HMRC is even less efficient in playing its part to get probate granted and estates distributed.

  4. Probate statistics are always at least 6 weeks out of date. Digital cases are going through within 3 weeks and have been for a couple of months now. on average 8 people with the surname smith would need probate each day, the volume of Smiths being processed has been double that for some time now, which would indicate that paper cases are also progressing much faster now.

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