The government has pulled in extra staff to deal with a surge in probate requests as applicants brace themselves for ‘some volatility’ in waiting times.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service has hired new staff and retrained existing employees who previously dealt with court hearings in a drive to keep on top of applications once lockdown is lifted.
In a meeting with the Law Society and other legal organisations last week, HMCTS confirmed that – following a dip last month – it is now receiving more applications per week than it is issuing. Applications are being turned around within five to six weeks, it said.
However, HMCTS warned that there could be some volatility in waiting times in coming weeks if receipts increase as forecast. At the moment it is processing 4,000-5,000 a week and has capacity for 7,000. HMCTS has asked solicitors to contact them only if absolutely necessary and not to chase cases that are within their timescales.
Probate applications were at half their normal levels in mid-May, as solicitors struggled to gain access to offices to collect wills. An influx of applications due to Covid-19 deaths, as well as demand from lawyers unable to work as they normally would, is expected over the summer.
Meanwhile HMCTS is encouraging solicitors to apply for probate online to speed up the process. Around a fifth of applications from solicitors are now made online; the proportion from lay applicants is one third.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.