UK MPs begin inquiry into continuing probate delays

Thursday, 23 November 2023
The House of Commons Justice Select Committee (the Justice Committee) has launched an inquiry into the HM Courts & Tribunal Service’s (HMCTS’) probate registry performance, following continuing significant delays in the issue of grants.
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The inquiry will take evidence on capacity, resources and delays across the probate service, the impact of digitisation and centralisation, and the effectiveness of the online probate portal. The probate registry says it is working towards reducing unprocessed applications in the system to around 30,000 estates at any one time. It expects the average wait time for grants to fall to eight weeks by March 2024, compared with 14 weeks between April and June 2023.

Questions to be addressed by the Justice Committee include whether the probate service is properly processing applications, including complex cases, in a timely manner and what the principle causes of the delays are. The problem of stops and how to avoid them, as well as the special problem of complex probate applications, will also be addressed. The Justice Committee will further ask what is being done to bring greater resilience to the probate system to mitigate against future delays and investigate the impact of delays and what the government could do to mitigate that impact.

The Justice Committee also has concerns about wider issues, such as how effectively beneficiaries, executors and the bereaved are supported through the process and protected from 'rogue traders'. It is interested not just in evidence from the professions but also in people's experiences of applying for probate, such as how the administration of probate could be improved for the bereaved. These concerns centre on whether the needs of particular groups such as disabled people or older people are being appropriately considered.

‘STEP welcomes and will be responding to the Justice Committee review, which will look at the reasons for these ongoing probate delays, in addition to exploring ways to future proof the probate service in the age of digitisation’, said Ben Bell, Government Affairs Manager at STEP. ‘We receive overwhelming feedback from members throughout England and Wales who tell us about their frustration with the probate service. We recognise these issues are largely due to capacity and resource, which HMCTS has been trying to address through supporting additional resource to clear the application backlog.’

Evidence can be submitted until 22 January 2024.

A further issue to be examined is whether the probate portal provides improved access to justice and value for money, and whether the fees and thresholds are set at the right level. This is especially timely: on 10 November 2023, the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on increasing certain court and tribunal fees in England and Wales from 2024. It proposes to increase the fee for a grant of probate from GBP273 to GBP300 for estates valued at over GBP5,000 and will make routine increases to the fees every two years. That consultation closes on 22 December 2023.

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