Government officials have not carried out any assessments on the cost of administering probate for high value estates, despite plans to introduce increased charges on them, it has emerged.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), in a written response to a question from Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, said it had not made any specific assessment on the costs to HMCTS of administering an application. Robertson had asked justice minister Lucy Frazer QC whether any assessments had been carried out on the cost of administering an application for probate for estates worth £5,000, £50,000 or £2m.
In response Frazer said: ’Whilst current probate fees are determined based on an assessment of unit costing at a service level, the Ministry of Justice has not made any assessment specifically on the costs to HMCTS of administering an application for probate for estates of £5,000, £50,000 or £2m.’
The MoJ wants to hike probate fees so that they are based on a sliding scale rather than the current flat fee.
At the moment, the fee for administering probate is a flat £215 for individuals and £155 for those applying through a solicitor. The charge is the same regardless of the size of the estate. The new proposals would introduce a maximum charge of £6,000 on estates valued at over £2m. A charge of £5,000 would be levied on estates valued between £1.6m and £2m. Estates valued at £50,000 or below will not face any charge.
MPs are set to consider a statutory instrument on the proposals, which have received widespread criticism, before 1 April.
Jenny Pierce, director of Solicitors for the Elderly, said: ‘It’s disappointing that the government is pushing forward this stealth tax for probate fees. The process to obtain a grant of representation is not likely to require the probate registry to do any additional work or require extra resources, and it’s clear that the MoJ has made limited consideration on how this will work in practice.’
The controversial policy is a watered-down version of a previous plan that would have introduced a maximum charge of £20,000 on estates valued at more than £2m. However, the revised proposals have still faced plenty of opposition with two committees both pouring scorn on the plans. The House of Lords also expressed concern before Christmas.
Pierce added: ‘Whilst SFE acknowledges that the fees are lower than those previously proposed, it still requires executors to find large sums upfront to pay for obtaining of the grant, and it is unclear how people will be able to pay the level of fee, especially in situations where the only asset is real property. SFE also has concerns that there may be more pressure on vulnerable clients to gift away their assets or enter into risky schemes to avoid the need to obtain a grant of representation.’