The government has announced that its controversial plans to increase probate fees by an considerable 12,900% have been shelved. Under the plans, the fee for applying for a grant of probate was to increase from a flat fee of £155 to up to £20,000 on an estate worth over £2 million. Payable before the process of distributing an estate can begin, the increase was set to give rise to significant problems for executors dealing with asset heavy, cash poor estates.
The government confirmed that the legislation would not be passed before Parliament is dissolved on 3 May 2017 because of insufficient time on the parliamentary timetable.
One wonders whether the decision was also due to the fierce criticism the proposals received. The Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, was yet to respond publicly to the damning verdict of the parliamentary joint committee on statutory instruments (JCSI) who questioned whether the proposals were lawful. According to the committee they were, in effect, imposing an additional tax on estates without the consent of Parliament.
The proposals had already been roundly criticised by MPs and within the legal profession as overly punitive. The new fees were too great an increase, they did not reflect the cost of the service and there would be significant problems for executors arranging payment of the fees and carrying out the administration of an estate.
It will be up to the next government to decide whether to reintroduce the plans. Given the controversy, it seems possible that it won’t.