Fireworks again ….

 In Gill's Blog, Probate

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….as the Government announce on 5 November new increase in probate fees

Probate fees fireworks

All probate practitioners will remember the 2017 storm caused by the callous and unprincipled attempt by Government to hike up probate fees for bereaved clients through the statutory instrument procedure. Hopefully, you all got involved in criticising the principle of introducing staggering increases for something which costs the probate service the same amount no matter what the value of the estate. Some of us also criticised, with success, the incorrect use of a statutory instrument to bring in what amounted to a fiscal measure.

It is therefore both surprising and disappointing that Government has learnt nothing from these exchanges in 2017 and has again re-introduced the increase in fees using a statutory instrument

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The government’s justification for the increase in fees (more modest but still £6,000 for estates over £2 million) is access to justice. That is, they need to fund an effective courts and tribunals service.

In the UK we do not have hypothecated taxation. We have general taxation, national insurance and VAT. We should not be paying for public services out of the fees paid by users of associated services and arguably not by the users of the service at all. For example, those of us who pay tax support the NHS whether or not we use the services. Equally, we pay council tax even if we do not have children who are being educated. This is the entirely reasonable cost of living and working in a free and fair democracy.

It is simply ridiculous to expect the bereaved in England to pay for the cost of upgrading the courts and tribunals service when the bereaved in Northern Ireland will continue to pay £237. In Scotland things are little more pricey with a fee of £256 if the estate is between £50,000.01 and £250,000 and for those exceeding £250,000 – £512 but nothing like the proposed increases for England and Wales.

The government says “it has long been the case that the users of our courts make a contribution to its costs, and we believe this remains both relevant and reasonable – minimising the burden on other taxpayers. Crucially, by asking those who use the courts to pay more, where they can afford to do so, we are able to fund areas where we charge no fees to vulnerable victims and users.”

I doubt if any of us would object on behalf of the bereaved if the fee increase was in line with inflation or the scales in Northern Ireland or Scotland but to expect English & Welsh estates to bear the proposed level of cost is unjust. One in five families can expect to have to pay £2,500 in fees for estates estimated at £500,001.

The Government estimates that the revised proposals would generate over £145 million in additional fee income and will be as follows:

Value of estate (before IHT) Fee proposal £
Up to £50,000 or exempt from requiring a grant of probate 0
Exceeds £50,000 but does not exceed £300,000 £250
Exceeds £300,000 but does not exceed £500,000 £750
Exceeds £500,000 but does not exceed £1 million £2,500
Exceeds £1 million but does not exceed £1.6 million £4,000
Exceeds £1.6 million but does not exceed £ 2million £5,000
Exceeds £2 million £6,000

So what should we be doing about it?

  • Write to your MP and complain about the use of a statutory instrument to sneak in a fiscal provision without parliamentary scrutiny again and point out the discrepancy with other parts of the UK. Push for answers to the difficult questions like how does the government envisage the bereaved paying these sort of fees when assets are frozen on death and banks and other institutions are not likely to lend for this purpose
  • Prepare staff to be overwhelmed again once we know if or when the changes are likely to happen
  • Ask the Probate Registry you use how it is expected applicants will be assisted to meet any deadline

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