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Probate Service in Recovery After Management Shake-Up

Posted on 21st March 2024 in Probate & Wills, Later Life Planning

Posted by

Sue Halfyard

Partner & Chartered Legal Executive
Probate Service in Recovery After Management Shake-Up

The UK government has claimed that the probate service is now in recovery mode after replacing its senior management team following a series of delays and complaints.

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process of dealing with the estate of someone who has died, which usually involves obtaining a grant of probate or letters of administration from a court. This allows the executor or administrator of the estate to access the deceased’s assets and distribute them according to their will or the law.

The problems with the probate service

However, the probate service has been facing a backlog of applications and long waiting times since 2019, when it underwent a major reform that involved closing regional offices, centralising the service in Birmingham, and introducing a new online system.

The reform was intended to modernise and streamline the service, but instead resulted in widespread dissatisfaction and frustration among bereaved families, solicitors, and charities. Some applicants reported waiting for months to receive their grants, while others encountered errors, glitches, and poor communication from the service.

The situation was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which increased the demand for probate and added further pressure on the already struggling service.

The Government’s response

In response to the mounting criticism, the government announced in December 2023 that it had replaced the senior management team of the probate service with a new interim leadership, and that it had recruited additional staff and improved the IT system to address the issues.

In a written statement to the House of Commons on January 9, 2024, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, said that the probate service was now “in recovery” and that the average waiting time for grants had reduced from 12 weeks in October 2023 to eight weeks in December 2023.

He also said that the service had cleared over 30,000 cases that were over six weeks old, and that it was aiming to reduce the waiting time to six weeks by March 2024.

He acknowledged that the service was still “not where it needs to be” and that there was “more work to do”, but he expressed confidence that the new management team and the measures taken would “deliver a probate service that is fit for the 21st century”.

However, not everyone was convinced by the government’s assurances. The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), a professional body for practitioners in the field of inheritance and succession planning, said that it was “sceptical” about the government’s claims and that it had not seen any evidence of improvement in the service.

In a blog post on January 15, 2024, STEP said that it had received “numerous reports” from its members that the probate service was still “dysfunctional” and that the waiting times were “unacceptable”.

It also said that it had not been consulted by the government on the reform or the recovery plan, and that it had “serious concerns” about the lack of transparency and accountability of the probate service.

STEP urged the government to engage with the stakeholders and the public, and to provide “clear and accurate” information on the performance and progress of the probate service.

It also called for an independent review of the reform and its impact, and for a compensation scheme for those who had suffered financial or emotional hardship due to the delays.

The important of submitting a correct application for probate

A correct probate application is essential to avoid delays and problems in handling the deceased’s estate. Errors or omissions can lead to requests for more information or evidence, or rejection of the application. This can cause stress and inconvenience for the executor, administrator, beneficiaries, and creditors. It can also postpone the asset distribution and debt payment.

How can Tozers help?

It is wise to get professional help to ensure that the probate application is accurate and submitted efficiently. Our team of friendly lawyers can assist with the applications for a Grant of Probate or the administration of an estate.

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