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'Interim solution' to keep E&W Wills Notification Service running after Smee & Ford contract ends

Thursday, 30 May, 2019

Chief Executive of the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Susan Acland-Hood, has reassured charities that an 'interim arrangement' will be set up to run HMCTS's Wills Notification Service when the existing Smee & Ford contract ends in July.

The service examines all wills submitted for probate in England and Wales, and notifies subscribing charities of for legacies left to them. It has, for many years, been provided by Smee & Ford, but HMCTS gave the company notice of termination in January, saying 'an assessment of our legal position [indicated that] the current arrangement is not consistent with the department's legal duties'.

This prompted intensive lobbying by charities, who rely on the service to tell them if they have been left money in wills. HMCTS promised when it terminated Smee & Ford’s contract that it would make continuity of service a priority, but it appears that it has not yet arranged for another long-term service solution.

As a result, charity umbrella bodies wrote a joint letter earlier this month to HMCTS, expressing concern and demanding that the service must not be interrupted. Over 120,000 legacies are left to charities every year, and the notification service is an important check that executors are doing their job properly. Moreover, many testators leave legacies for unspecified charitable purposes, which the charities can then follow up with executors.

In her response to this letter, Acland-Hood noted her organisation's 'clear recognition of how important the notification service is to [charities] in terms of financial management and reporting, and its wider role in fraud prevention and awareness raising with executors'.

Since the January announcement was made, said Acland-Hood, HMCTS has 'prioritised our effort to securing an interim arrangement to provide participating charities with a notification service while the work is done to shape the longer-term solution'.

'This effort has made good progress and that, while I am not yet in a position to provide details, I am now confident that an interim solution will be in place to deliver the continuity of service your members have sought', she added.