Controversial England and Wales probate fee increase proposal is finally dropped

Monday, 14 October 2019
Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland has announced that the enormous increase in probate fees proposed under former Prime Minister Theresa May has been scrapped, according to the Daily Mail.

The increase would have charged probate applicants in England and Wales up to GBP6,000 depending on the value of the estate, instead of the current flat fee of GBP155 (via a solicitor, GBP215 without) .

However, in a statement given to the Daily Mail, Buckland announced he had decided the policy was not 'fair and proportionate'. The related statutory instrument, which has for months been awaiting parliamentary approval, will accordingly be withdrawn.

Instead, the next annual review of court fees will consider making 'small adjustments' to cover the costs of probate applications.

Buckland was appointed Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July. He was not publicly involved in the creation of the new fee scale, which was first devised in early 2017 but then temporarily scrapped because a general election was called as it was about to be enacted.

It was resurrected in November 2018, this time with a GBP6,000 cap on fees instead of the GBP20,000 proposed in 2017. However, it still met considerable opposition from the professions, the media and the public, and was challenged as potentially unlawful by some MPs because the proposed charges were far higher than the cost of delivering the service. Moreover, it triggered a rush of probate applications submitted early to pre-empt the fees rise, which cause a serious backlog at the Probate Service.

Charities also objected that it might deter testators from leaving legacies. Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity, said he was 'hugely relieved' at Buckland's announcement. 'Charities large and small rely heavily on gifts in wills, worth around GBP3 billion a year', he said. 'We can't afford to risk jeopardising such an important income stream or to reverse the trend for growth in legacy giving.'

STEP has strongly opposed the proposed fees since they were first announced, raising concerns on the grounds of fairness, practicality and legality. It welcomed the news that the government has decided to scrap the proposed increase. STEP Technical Counsel Emily Deane TEP said: ‘This follows many months of work by STEP and many others to highlight the unfairness of the proposed increase, which amounted to a stealth tax on the bereaved. This at last brings an end to the uncertainty and worry that these proposals have caused to grieving families.’

Sources

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