The first probate register office to shut under the £1bn courts reform programme will close its doors next week, the government has announced - to the fury of solicitors already waiting months for grants of probate. The Law Society said it will continue to challenge the closure.
Under the reform programme, Birmingham District Probate Registry will close on 30 August. Birmingham Courts and Tribunal Service Centre will take over online applications from that date while paper applications will be re-directed to the Newcastle register office.
According to the government, all staff affected by the closure have been redeployed elsewhere in HM Courts & Tribunals Service. The eventual plan is to move all probate services to the Courts and Tribunals Service Centre in Birmingham, with some administrative work taking place at a second site.
Ian Bond, chair of the Law Society's wills and equity committee, said: 'We are disappointed with the closures, especially at a time when they have such a backlog of work. It would be better to delay the closures and get the new systems working first rather than trying to both bed in a new IT system and close registries.'
Vice president of the Law Society David Greene said: ‘With solicitors and lay applicants across the country reporting waits of over six to eight weeks for grants of probate – partly due to a spike in applications before fees increase – it is especially disappointing to hear of this closure.
‘The Law Society will continue to challenge HMCTS to reduce the application backlogs and create a probate service fit for the 21st century.’
The number of probate applications rose steeply in March – up 22% year-on-year – as solicitors rushed to beat fee increases that were due to come into force from the start of April. These increases never actually materialised.
In June, solicitors told the Gazette that new software at probate offices was causing delays of up to 13 weeks.
The Law Society, along with Solicitors for the Elderly and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, will meet with HMCTS on 10 September to review probate issues. In a meeting in June, HMCTS told the Law Society that it is issuing grants at a higher rate and that the backlog is gradually decreasing.