Almost 20 probate offices have been closed as part of a government push to modernise the courts and tribunals service.

Sub-registries in Stoke on Trent, Nottingham, Lincoln, York, Chester, Lancaster, Carlisle, Middlesbrough, Peterborough, Exeter, Gloucester, Leicester, Caernarvon, Carmarthen, Sheffield, Maidstone, Norwich and Bodmin - a total of 18 - shut their doors on Friday, and a ‘managed programme’ of further closures is planned.

In a letter to stakeholders, the chief executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service, Susan Acland-Hood, said: ‘There will be no redundancies at this stage as we are working with members of staff to find other positions in HMCTS and the wider civil service’. She added: ‘Many of these locations haven’t been staffed for a number of years and were open on a part time and sometimes ad-hoc basis using staff from other registries.’

As part of the government’s £1bn modernisation programme, probate requests will now be handled by national courts and tribunals service centres. However, Acland-Hood promised closures will not set back applications for grants of probate.

She wrote: ‘As the probate reform project progresses, and more probate work is moved to the service centres, there will be a managed programme to close further registries, but this will only happen when we are confident closures will not adversely impact the time it takes for users to obtain grants of probate. There will be no further closures before April 2020, and we will let you know about other closures as they are confirmed.’

Solicitors have complained of delays to the probate system since a software glitch last spring. In November, HMCTS said delays would be over by Christmas and applicants should not contact local registries with probate queries. Instead, they should contact the Birmingham Courts and Tribunal Service Centre which can purportedly deal with all enquiries.

Simon Davis, president of the Law Society, said: ‘The decision to close local probate registries comes just as waits for probate grant applications have started to return to normal. HM Courts and Tribunals Service must ensure that these closures do not cause any further delays and we will continue to work with them to create a probate service fit for the 21st century.’