Having softened us with an even greater potential increase in Probate fees 2 years ago, which was squashed, the Treasury is now having another go at raising revenue by increasing those fees, originally from April 2019. But the Brexit drama has meant that there has not been enough Parliamentary time to set it up. Once Parliament has passed the rule, the new fees will come in 21 days later, hence the massive queues for Grants at the time of writing (September 2019).
At the moment, current Probate Court Charges are £215 + £1.50 for each extra copy of the grant. Solicitors pay £60 less. Not everyone will lose – estates under £50,000 could save as much as £215 on probate court fees. For the rest, they will pay more to the Probate Court, mostly a lot more. As far as we can see, it is a tax on Middle England which will have no significant effect on the properly wealthy (that may sound odd if you live in an area with lower house prices!)
Here are the potential new probate fees:
- Estates worth from £50,000 up to £300,000 will pay £250 in probate fees, up £35.
- Estates worth from £300,000 up to £500,000 will pay £750, up £535.
- Estates worth from £500,000 up to £1 million will pay £2,500, up £2,285.
- Estates worth from £1 million up to £1.6 million will pay £4,000, up £3,785.
- Estates worth from £1.6 million up to £2 million will pay £5,000, up £4,785.
- Estates worth more than £2 million will pay £6,000, up a mind-boggling £5,785.
All this at a time when the Probate Registries and so-called Probate Helpline are less and less able even to answer the phone, never mind be helpful (to be fair, they are very helpful if you can get through). While probate court charges go up, applicants and solicitors are doing more and more of the Courts work for them.
It may be that some of the Registries will now be able to get working phone systems installed, but we rather suspect that the complete failure to finance the service properly will not be improved by this massive increase in Probate Fees. It will just be a hidden tax rise, and the deconstruction of the Probate Service will continue to the point where all decisions will be taken by computer, and if you don’t speak computer – tough.
We have great respect for the staff at Probate Registries and the work they do dealing with people at very difficult times. They deserve support, and the funds will be available from whenever the new Tax actually comes in). But we bet they won’t see any of it – the Justice PR people can’t even be bothered to deal with the outcry at the sometimes impossibility of actually getting through to a Probate Registry. Clearly, the “computer says NO” is the way forward.
STOP PRESS – it looks as if may hard pressed Probate Registry staff will be rewarded with a Redundancy Notice as it seems that many more Registries will close, to be replaced by Court and Tribunal Service Centres – but we suspect a lot less of them! One already exists, dealing with online applications, but we have been unable to get any contact details other than what is allegedly their address: CTSC, 56 Hagley Road, Birmingham B16 8PE.
There are some useful but very minor improvements on the way, but on balance, we believe that the wrecking of the Probate Service is not an accident so any increases in Probate Fees will not benefit them, but are pure hidden tax. Why not just be honest and put tax rates up?