England and Wales probate fee increases to take effect in three weeks
The UK government's intention to equalise fees for all applicants was announced in July 2021, on the basis that all users should pay the same fee for the same service and the single fee should be set to cover the costs of delivery without generating a profit. A public consultation was held, to which several professional bodies, including STEP, responded.
STEP’s consultation response expressed concerns that a universal fee could discourage the use of probate professionals who assist lay clients through an emotionally and financially challenging process. It noted that the process can be complex and using an experienced professional to complete the application offers reassurance to both the individual and the HM Courts and Tribunals (HMCTS) probate service. Moreover, STEP believed that removing the cost difference between professional and non-professional applications will lead to an increase in work for the probate service.
'If the estate is being administered by a professional and the requisite estate searches and checks have been carried out then the application has a far lower risk of containing any mistakes or errors that HMCTS will subsequently need to spend time investigating', said STEP's response to the consultation. 'This is a particular issue at present when we are seeing constant changes to administration and reporting procedures in response to the Covid pandemic which could lead to unavoidable errors by the lay client'. In addition, mistakes made by lay clients could also result in contentious probate claims being made later on, which would also lead to an increased workload for HMCTS, said STEP.
Nevertheless, the fees increase has now been officially enacted and will come into force on 26 January. The Ministry of Justice estimates that the additional average annual cost to court users from the fee increase is about GBP20 million, all of which will go to HMCTS. It says that any 'familiarisation and awareness costs' incurred by individuals and legal services providers who use probate services are expected to be minor.
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