Are increasing probate applications affecting backlogs?

Probate Delays: Calls for reform and transparency as election nears

As the UK general election approaches, significant concerns have been raised about the persistent issues at the probate registry. Justice Committee Chair Sir Robert Neill KC MP acknowledged the consensus among witnesses that staff levels at the probate office are inadequate. Despite some recent improvements, service quality remains inconsistent, leaving firms struggling to manage their clients’ expectations effectively.

Witnesses testified that merely increasing staff numbers was insufficient to address the probate office’s problems. Experienced staff departures have resulted in a loss of crucial knowledge that cannot be replaced by computer systems alone. As one witness noted:

“A computer system has not replicated that knowledge. It may have helped with allocating cases, but it has not helped that knowledge, so I think there is that gap and they’re trying to build it up again.”

Moving staff within HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) may not resolve the issue, as the knowledge is not always transferable, according to ICAEW.

Rachel Hopkins MP questioned the level of training required to adequately equip probate office staff. Suggestions included seconding experienced probate practitioners to train HMCTS staff and addressing the bottleneck caused by a shortage of registrars. Hopkins emphasised the need for effective stakeholder management and the importance of direct communication with those processing applications.

Dr. Kieran Mullan MP inquired about the potential for third-party support to alleviate the backlog. Witnesses agreed that utilising third-party expertise could provide a temporary solution, suggesting a rotation system for training staff with experienced practitioners.

Edward Timpson KC MP raised concerns about the probate registry’s preparedness for increasing death rates. Ian Bond pointed out that probate rules, some 30 years old, need modernisation to handle modern digital wills. There were also calls for will writing to be regulated to ensure quality and reduce costs associated with poorly drafted wills.

Timpson also asked about introducing minimum service level standards for the probate registry. Witnesses advocated for realistic processing times, guaranteed query acknowledgments, and better communication channels for applicants. Wales highlighted the emotional toll on grieving families waiting for probate, stating the need for timely updates and clear information.

In a related development, 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.

2 Responses

  1. In my experience, where it is necessary to submit an IHT 400 to HMRC for it to issue a unique code to enable the probate application to proceed, HMRC are spending too much time checking The content of the account, which normally used to be done later when they reviewed the information. Instead, HMRC should merely check that the calculation of tax is correct, or that on the figures, no tax is payable and issue the code. I still don’t know why it is necessary to send this by snail mail Instead of email.

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