In March 2019 a colleague in our Private Client team reported on the Government proposal to increase the Probate Registry fees required to obtain a Grant of Probate. The proposals were to replace the fixed fee of either £215 (without a Solicitor) or £155 (with a Solicitor) for a Grant of Probate with a tiered charging system based on the value of the estate. Such value did not take into account any exemptions or reliefs such as spouse exemption or Agricultural or Business Property Relief – if the deceased’s estate had value before such exemptions or reliefs then the fees would be payable at the higher rates. This could have meant as much as £6000 being paid instead.
The Government and the Houses of Parliament have been rather distracted of late and a number of important policy issues and legislation have been put to one side to deal with the Brexit conundrum. As a result the proposals had already been delayed. We are now delighted to hear that the Lord Chancellor has confirmed that these proposals have been officially scrapped.
This is a victory for all those who had campaigned against the proposed fees. Such fees were considered by many as an additional tax on estates on top of Inheritance tax and meant that the recently bereaved were expected to bear the brunt of paying for the shortfalls of funding across the whole Courts system.
The plans may have caused huge cash flow problems for many. People, who were asset rich but cash poor such as pensioners and farmers, were likely to be hit the hardest. They were also considered by some as a misuse of the Lord Chancellors powers to impose fees, and were seen as an attempt to raise taxes to fund the Court service without as much parliamentary scrutiny that such tax increase would normally require. This could have set a dangerous precedent for future tax changes.
The new fee structure was supposed to be introduced in April 2019 and this, together with a new computer system at the Probate Service and the rush to get applications in before the fee hike, had meant delays, in some cases of months, were being experienced in the issuing of a Grant. What had previously taken 3-6 weeks to be issued could take as much as 3-4 months. Some Grants that were applied for in April this year have still not been issued. This delay was causing a great deal of hardship to some bereaved families especially where there was a house to be sold and where house sales fell through as a result of the delay. Recent improvements are being seen to the delays that were caused by the perfect storm in April 2019 but we are not out of the woods yet.
Following considerable pressure from the Legal profession, the Press, and opposition from some MP’s and the public, no vote ever took place on the proposals and now the proposals, as set out above have been consigned to the history books.
You can speak to a member of our Private Client team for help and advice.