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UK government gives notice to end Smee & Ford legacy notification contract

Monday, 4 February, 2019

The Ministry of Justice is terminating its contract with Smee & Ford, under which the company examines wills when they receive probate and notify charities of any legacies left to them.

The company has operated the service for many years, charging a subscription fee to participating charities. HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) says it has decided that the current arrangement, though made in good faith, is 'not consistent with the department's legal duties'. No further explanation was offered on this point, though HMCTS's Chief Executive Susan Acland-Hood said the decision to end the Smee & Ford contract was 'no reflection on the service provided by them but comes as a result of an assessment of our legal position'.

Acland-Hood has now written to charities promising to set up new system based on consultation with the charity sector and the Institute of Legacy Management. The new system will take over from the Smee & Ford service when the latter ends in six months. Continuity of service will be prioritised.

She reassured the sector that HMCTS is 'very conscious of the important part that legacies play in funding essential charitable work across the country', and that it is committed to ensuring a notification system continues. More than 122,000 charitable bequests were left in wills in 2017 alone, she said. These include specific legacies left to charities, or notification of money left in wills or trusts for unspecified charitable purposes, which the charities can follow up with executors.

'We will therefore work closely with Smee & Ford to seek to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible arising out of these changes over the six months’ notice period while also seeking their views, based on their knowledge of the current service, regarding future options,’ she said. HMCTS said it would be the biggest change to the system since the 1970s.

Representatives of charity umbrella organisations, including the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, as well as the Institute of Legacy Management, have been invited to join a working group to create the successor system.