The government published its latest plans for changes to the probate court fee structure in July. Its consultation document Aligning the Fees for Grants of Probate to Cost Recovery provides further information about the new fee structure and requests comments on its proposals.
We have discussed previous proposed reforms to the probate court fee structure and the requirement to pay a “probate fee” as part of the application process for a Grant of Probate (Grant) following a person’s death here. The consultation document describes earlier Government proposals as “far broader in scope”. If introduced they would have represented a substantial increase in probate court fees. After consulting on its earlier reforms, the Government has announced a more modest increase in the probate court fee structure. The consultation document acknowledges that previous plans were “withdrawn” after consultation and feedback on the proposals received by the government.
The consultation document suggests that the probate fee will increase from £155 (for applications made by professional advisers) and £215 (for applications made by individuals) to a flat fee of £273 for all applicants. These changes will see an overall fee increase of £118 and £58 respectively for professional and personal applicants.
Earlier government reforms also proposed extending the value of those estates exempt from the probate court fee from £5,000 to £50,000. The consultation document does not reference these proposals and simply states that “probate applications for estates below £5,000 would continue to be exempt from paying a fee” and notes other support available for those who need assistance in paying the fee.
The consultation document states that the proposed increase is intended to achieve three key aims:
- it will remove the discrepancy in the way that fees are charged (which currently differ depending on who applies)
- it will remove the need for a public subsidy for the probate application process, as it currently costs HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) more to process applications than the fees it receives
- it will raise income for HMCTS, to fund its legal service provisions and provide access to justice. The consultation document notes that the increase in probate court fees will raise an additional £23–25 million for HMTCS during a typical year.
The consultation period closes for responses on 23 September 2021. A confirmed date for the introduction of the new fee structure is not provided but the consultation document notes it is expected to be introduced in early 2022. Any changes will require amendments to existing legislation.
Considering the substantial probate fee hikes originally suggested in earlier proposals, we are pleased that the new proposed increases, whilst not insignificant, are relatively modest. As part of the consultation process we would welcome further clarification as to why this fee increase is necessary at this time, particularly when other cost reductions and efficiencies are being introduced in the probate service. For example, the majority of probate applications are now made online, and a number of district registries have already been closed to reduce overheads.
We remain concerned about continuing delays in obtaining Grants. We have been notified on several occasions of delays to processing Grants and backlogs of work by various district probate registries and these delays are reflected in our own experiences. In addition, new processes, such as an increased waiting time of four weeks between submitting certain inheritance tax forms (if payment is needed) and the permitted submission of the application for a Grant, has extended the time it can take to apply for and receive the final Grant.