Continued delays at Probate Registries

Without sufficient funding, the severe delays at Probate Registries will not get better, consumers are being informed that probate will take at least nine months.

Probate delays nearly doubled between April 2022 and April 2023, and it is reported that this had a severe effect on clients who had recently lost a loved one. The added stress of these delays was exacerbated by financial difficulties.

The Justice Select Committee, which has launched a parliamentary inquiry into the issue, have responded “we do not believe the Probate Service has the necessary resources, capabilities, or expertise to process applications for probate, including complex probate, in a timely manner”.

According to reports, consumers are under extra stress during an already trying time, and their lawyers are also under pressure because of the reasonable complaints and scrutiny from clients who are dissatisfied with the procedure.

We believe this has had a negative impact on the perception of lawyers’ competence and their relationship with clients as professionals. A recent poll said they did not think the probate process provides protection and support for beneficiaries, executors, and the bereaved.

Sales in property in particular are being impacted, with sales falling through as a result of the delay in receiving a grant. As a result, many customers are unable to obtain the money they require, which has an impact on the amount of money lawyers can charge. Reports have said 65% of lawyers believe that hiring more employees would help the situation—emphasised the urgent need for employees who possess “the technical and legal knowledge to deal with complex applications, stops, and enquiries.”

The absence of application updates was also brought up, it has been suggested that better communication, streamlined processes for simple applications, and “a facility for users to not only track progress but also make enquiries online.”

Some responders brought up the potential of District Probate Registers reopening, “equipped with qualified and knowledgeable staff,” arguing that this would help with capacity difficulties and enable more direct communication. Pre-screening applications, expanding online application services to include options for various application types (rather than a “one size fits all” approach), adding more prompts, providing clearer instructions, and enabling users to submit inquiries and get updates about ‘stopped cases’ through the online application system are some additional recommendations.

Approximately 38% actively supported the premise that technological development and innovation could improve the Probate Service, although they recognised the potential benefits. There have been responses that “without effective implementation, which includes the right level of staff to support an online system, it is not certain that technology improves the process”.

From our experience lawyers and their grieving clients are suffering greatly as a result of the continuous delays in the Probate Service, which adds stress and anxiety to an already trying time in their life. The root of the issue is a lack of sufficient staffing, even though using technology and expediting the procedure could be helpful.

In order to manage difficult cases, deal with stalled applications, and properly answer to inquiries, the Probate Service requires an adequate number of employees with the necessary skills, training, and experience. Insufficient funding makes it unlikely that the length of time it takes to get probate will decrease anytime soon.

We think that the workforce’s lack of familiarity with these kinds of issues is the main cause of these delays. The professional group notes that longer wait times and an increase in errors have coincided with the loss of experienced workers from probate registers, particularly in more complex cases. The society saw a marked increase in mistakes in probate grants, such as misspelt words and omissions of names of executors. They suggested that the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) look at outsourcing complex cases to specialised law firms in order to help reduce the backlog in a submission to a Justice Committee investigation.

Inheritance tax is required prior to the grant of probate, and delays have resulted in unsuccessful house sales and prompted some people to turn to loans to cover the cost.

A poll conducted by the Justice Committee in November of last year revealed that all probate practitioners have had house sales cancelled as a result of these delays. The committee therefore launched an investigation into these delays. Furthermore, 67% of users reported registry issues causing applications to crash.

HMCTS data indicates that “stopped” applications—usually sophisticated ones—take roughly 24 weeks to finish. The email response mechanism used by the probate register for these petitions contributes to the delays and may cause the wait to last many months.

It has been noted that the problem was made worse by the fact that many senior staff members left as a result of the 2019 switch to online probate services. The number of workers in the probate registry has drastically decreased as compared to before the pandemic. They added that the recent restrictions on remote work that were put in place after the epidemic did not play a major role in these delays.

In order to meet the more efficient 28-day processing target, STEP advises HMCTS to concentrate on hiring and properly educating more experienced workers in addition to outsourcing challenging cases.

If you would like any further advice, please do not hesitate to contact us:
3C Legal Limited
Tel: +44 (0) 1684 212147
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