It has been widely reported in the press in recent months of the considerable backlog of work that the Probate Registries in England and Wales are facing. Whereas in previous years, a Grant of Representation often took 10 days to be issued from the outset of the application, Solicitors are reporting applications taking an average of 8 weeks with some cases taking in excess of 13 – 15 weeks.
The delays have been caused due to the Probate Court Service having transitioned to a new IT system in January of this year; a system which seems fraught with teething problems; and also the Government’s proposed increases in probate court fees which were originally due to be brought into force on the 1st April, meaning the Probate Registries were flooded with applications in March, ahead of the date of the proposed changes.
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) met HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) at the end of June, together with The Law Society and Solicitors for the Elderly, to obtain an update on the delays and disruption to the probate service.
HMCTS gave the following update on work undertaken since the 14th May:-
- They have taken on 30 new staff since the transfer to the new IT system.
- They currently have 180 employees working across the Probate Service, having recruited additional legal advisors with probate experience.
- HMCTS is now issuing approximately 20,000 grants a month.
- Applications are being dealt with in date order, with the oldest first.
- Grants are not being prioritised according to urgency and such applications based on urgency are not being granted.
- The current timescale is 6-8 weeks for applications to be dealt with.
- There will not be any refund of probate fees made due to the delays.
HMCTS anticipates that once its new digital system is fully up and running, there will be less scope for administrative and human errors. Users will be able to track applications and make corrections online.
STEP are due to meet with HMCTS for a further update at that time. However, practitioners continue to report delays in excess of the timescales currently being given by HMCTS, meaning there are many bereaved people being left in limbo by the current chaos.
Should you require help with the administration of an estate, please get in touch with Rebecca Head on 01543 440308.