Protracted probate applications persisting despite positive signs

Probate application delays remained the order of the day in June with applications taking an average of nearly four months, new data has revealed.

Specifically, the timeliness between submission and grant for all probate applications was 13.9 weeks. While this remains comfortably above the 12-month average of 11 weeks, it represents a slight improvement on the 15.4-week delays seen in the previous month of May 2023.

Digital applications

probate delays
Source: HMCTS

18,746 of the 23,357 grants issued during the month were done so digitally, according to HM Courts and Tribunals Service. The average digital probate application saw a 12.1-week wait for a grant – over 50% longer than the 12-month average and nearly double the 6.3-week wait in July 2022. Yet, this is a 9% improvement on the previous month’s waiting times.

For stopped digital applications, the wait was 19.3 weeks, though this represents a slight improvement from the 20.7-week wait in May. Digital applications that weren’t stopped took 9.2 weeks, up from 8.8 weeks in the previous month and 84% higher than the 12-month average of five weeks.

Paper applications

The remaining 4,611 probate grants in June were issued via paper. These applications saw an improvement in timeliness across the board compared with the previous month.

Indeed, the average wait between submission and grant for a paper application was 21.2 weeks, down from 22.4 in May. For stopped applications, the 28.8-week wait is down from 29.5 weeks the previous month, with non-stopped applications also falling from a 16.7-week wait to 15.7 weeks between May and June.

However, all of these figures remain above the 12-month average for their respective application type.

Working to deal with delays

The latest data on delays comes after Lord Willis of Knaresborough asked the government earlier in the summer in the House of Lords “why applications for probate, which require no additional documentation, cannot be processed using artificial intelligence (AI) and completed immediately”.

This is something HMCTS said it is considering, confirmed justice minister Lord Bellamy:

“HMCTS is conducting an investigation to explore the potential applications of AI in the Courts and Tribunals, which raises important policy, ethical, legal, and social issues to be considered.”

In the meantime, however, while delays continue to affect applications, it has been reported that the government is considering temporarily exempting properties awaiting probate from the increase in the council tax surcharge for vacant or second homes.

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