Senior Associate at Winckworth Sherwood, James Mabey recently wrote an open letter to the editor expressing his concerns at the current service delays from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).
I have commented on the delays being faced by families and professionals seeking grants of probate, expressing my concerns at the current service delays from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the effect this is having on families and professionals navigating the challenges of a bereavement.
HMCTS have acknowledged that there are issues and as part of their review, made a commitment to return to a normal active case load by March 2022. Similarly, HMCTS were committed to reducing outstanding cases to pre-pandemic levels by Christmas 2021. Unfortunately, the latter was not realised for a variety of reasons, including focusing resources on time-intensive complex and aged cases and a higher than anticipated level of incoming applications in the final months of 2021.
As for returning to a normal case load, it seems HMCTS is still working on this. The Law Society’s latest probate user group meeting report was released this month, with the latest data (from January) showing online probate applications are taking around a month to be processed, whilst those which are ‘stopped’ are taking closer to 4 months. Paper applications are taking around 2.5 months, or over 5 months if there is a ‘stop’. HMCTS have confirmed that the backlog in applications isn’t growing, but there do appear to be challenges in reducing it.
Amidst the delays in processing applications, fees have also increased. Unfortunately, the move to an online probate system has come at a cost to users, with a revised application fee of £273 (in comparison to a two tier fee of £155 and £215 previously). Whilst in today’s climate, this may not come as a surprise, many may rightfully question whether the increased cost can be justified whilst delays are ongoing. HMCTS have clarified that the move to an online application system means taxpayers are no longer subsidising the service, as the service will no longer be operating at a loss.
Whilst it is difficult to navigate the probate process at the best of times, particularly in light of the current delays and decline in service standards, it is important that users and their clients set their expectations accordingly. Fees are going up and service is going down, which is resulting in bereaved loved ones waiting longer for their inheritance and receiving less of it when the time comes.