Faulty applications from solicitors are a principal cause of delays of more than six weeks for grants of probate, HM Courts & Tribunals has implied in its response to an escalating row.
The chair of the Law Society’s wills and equity committee told the Gazette last week that the Ministry of Justice is downplaying probate delays and that figures being cited do not reflect actual waiting times.
However, a blog on HM Courts & Tribunals Service’s website says the discrepancy is caused by inaccurate or incomplete probate applications.
Jonathan Wood, national services director, wrote: ‘A considerable number of applications for probate have to be stopped because we need further information or assurance before we can issue a grant of probate.’
‘We don’t count the time from stopping until we get the responses back and start working again on the application…But it is clear that when applications are stopped it adds to the time it takes us to process and the impact is felt more acutely when people are already waiting far too long.’
He added that the new online system would make the application process ‘clearer and simpler’ and cut down on the number of applications needing correction.
Wood apologised for the general delays and wrote: 'When we first migrated work to one of our new back-office systems we hit teething problems and lost a number of days’ worth of working time. This affected our operations, but in the normal run of things would not have significantly affected our service times for an extended period. But volumes soared in the spring - over a 50% increase during March and April compared to usual monthly volumes.'
HMCTS increased its workforce by 20% to deal with a backlog of 40,000 applications. Wood wrote: ‘With extra support now in place, I fully expect the delays to reduce further over the coming weeks.’
I. Stephanie Boyce, deputy vice president of the Law Society, said: 'It has always been the case that HMCTS needs further assurance for some probate applications. Whilst it is important that further information is supplied for these applications, solicitors and lay applicants across the country are still reporting waiting longer than 6-8 weeks for a grant of probate. We will continue to challenge HMCTS to reduce the backlogs and create a probate system fit for the 21st century.'