The government has postponed its proposed increases in probate application fees because there won’t be time to introduce them before the coming election.
Ministers hope to go ahead with the changes later this year despite strong opposition from lawyers, charities and the public.
Under the current fee structure, fees for grants of probate are set at £155 if the process is handled by a solicitor and £215 if handled directly by the executor. There is no fee for estates valued at less than £5,000.
The new fee structure, planned by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), makes significant changes. There will be no fee on estates valued up to £50,000. A sliding scale then comes into effect with fees varying from £300 to a maximum of £20,000 depending on the value of the estate.
The proposed rises have attracted widespread criticism from the legal profession and others. In a public consultation, more than 80% of respondents said it would not be fairer to move to this proportionate fee structure. Many objectors pointed out that the administration involved in probate was the same regardless of the value of the estate and therefore the cost should be set in relation to the service provided.
The MoJ says it understands that the increases are unpopular but stressed they were necessary to provide “a significant contribution to reducing the deficit and enabling investment which will transform the courts and tribunals service”.
The former justice minister Shailesh Vara said: “These proposals are progressive, with lower value estates lifted out of paying any fee at all and other estates only paying more as the value of the estate increases.”
Steve Webb, director of policy at the insurance and investment firm Royal London, told the Solicitors Journal that the ministry’s admission that the new rates were a simple revenue-raising measure, was something which the government would be treating as ‘a nice little earner’ and was not fair on bereaved families.
He said: “This is clear evidence that the new charging structures are nothing to do with recovering the reasonable cost of processing probate applications and are simply a backdoor way of raising money from people in their time of greatest need.”
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