According to a letter seen by the Gazette, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Recovery from Estates (RfE) section has revised its system for requesting historic documents from banks and reduced its backlog of work.

When dealing with estates, executors may receive a letter from the RfE section if the deceased was receiving benefits. If they were not receiving the correct amount the DWP can try to recover any sums paid in error from that person’s estate.

Terry Moore, solicitor at Hull-based Burstalls, has repeatedly spoken out about the system, saying it caused ‘misery’ for the bereaved and overburdened lawyers. Moore, chair of Hull Probate Practitioners’ Group, was promised that there would be a review of the process in 2016 after he complained about delays in an investigation concerning an 89-year-old client.

Last year, he recommended changes including limiting requests for past information from banks or building societies to six years. He said solicitors frequently receive unmanageable requests including bank statements going back 13 years before death ‘when it is common knowledge that banks only have records for six years prior to death’.

According to a letter to Moore from the DWP, the department has now said banks should only be required to produce records for the ‘earliest information they hold’. The department said a new telephone number for RfE enquiries had been set up and reported that there had been a 79% reduction in the volume of work since December 2016.

Moore told the Gazette he was happy with the changes to a system which previously resulted in practitioners ‘wasting a lot of time and effort’. However, his proposal for a policy that any overpaid benefits less than a certain amount (for example £100, £500, or £1,000) should not be collected, was rejected. Moore claimed the cost of collection would outweigh the initial sum.

The DWP said: ‘We have a duty to the taxpayer to recover overpaid benefits.’