Rollout of new software at probate registries across England and Wales has caused long delays to obtaining grants of probate and letters of administration, leaving clients in financial limbo, solicitors have told the Gazette.
Applications are usually processed within 10 days and sometimes one week. A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesperson told the Gazette that some delays ‘of up to four weeks’ have been experienced as a result of transitioning to a new IT system. Some practitioners have said they have been waiting six to eight weeks.
The software, which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has described as a new case management system, was installed at the end of March. Problems have also been reported with printers at local registries.
A letter from one lawyer to his MP, seen by the Gazette, says solicitors have faced allegations of a lack of professionalism due to delays that are ‘beyond their control’. The ‘seriousness of the policy failure must be laid at the feet of justice minister’ [David Gauke], the letter adds.
Melinda Giles, partner at Essex firm Giles Wilson, said she had received responses from registries in Newcastle and Cardiff both acknowledging delays. She added that HM Revenue & Customs, responsible for administering inheritance tax, is also experiencing delays adding to the financial hardship for clients.
It is understood that the delays are also being caused in part by an influx of applications from applicants seeking to avoid the forthcoming change to the probate fee structure.
Under the new structure fees would be linked to the size of the estate. The wealthiest estates (those valued at more than £2m) would be charged £6,000. The threshold at which no probate charge is applied would increase from £5,000 to £50,000. At the moment, it costs £215 to apply, or £155 for solicitors. The new fees were due to be implemented at the start of the month but approval has been delayed.
Stuart Adams, managing associate in the private department at London firm Mishcon de Reya, said the delay is likely to be a result of the MoJ’s ongoing centralisation.
‘Further concerns have been expressed regarding the move towards digital probate applications where, amongst other things, work historically done by experienced civil servants in the probate service to verify the authenticity of wills is to be done using bulk scanning and printing services,’ Adams said.
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: ‘It is extremely disappointing to hear of these delays. It seems inherently unfair that the impact of this falls on the bereaved when they have no other option but to apply for probate.’
The MoJ said it is working hard to accommodate those affected. An HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson added that a ‘short delay’ caused by an issue with its contractor’s printers had been resolved quickly. ’All grants affected were issued within a week and we apologise for any inconvenience caused,’ the spokesperson added.