The Lord Chancellor's department has since 2016 been attempting to significantly increase the court fees payable to obtain a grant of probate (where the deceased leaves a Will) or a grant of letters of administration (where the deceased left no Will).
The proposed changes are now contained in the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018. This is a Statutory Instrument which requires Parliamentary approval to be brought into force. The Order was originally expected to be placed before the House of Commons for approval prior to the UK Parliament rising for its summer recces. As this did not happen it cannot now be passed into law until Parliament returns on 3rd September 2019.
The proposed changes are controversial due to the level of increase which is seen by many in the legal profession as a "stealth tax". For estates with a value of more than £5,000, the current court fees are £155 for a Grant application made by a solicitor or £215 for those made by individuals. These fixed fees would be replaced with banded fees. The fee payable would be linked to the value of the estate and range from £250 to £6,000. The proposed banded fees are:
|Value Of Estate||Fee|
|£50,000 to below £300,000||£250|
|£300,000 to below £500,000||£750|
|April 2015 - March 2016||£38|
|£500,000 to below £1 million||£2,500|
|£1 million to below £1.6 million||£4,000|
|£1.6 million to below £2 million||£5,000|
|£2 million plus||£6,000|
The Lord Chancellor's department have confirmed that funds raised will be reinvested elsewhere in the justice system. In effect grieving families will be footing the bill for cuts made elsewhere in the justice system.
The proposals have been criticised for:
- Attempting to introduce fees which could be 38 times higher than the current fixed fee;
- Having no bearing on the actual cost of the service provided by the court. The services involved in a Grant being issue by the court are the same regardless of the value of the estate;
- Abusing the principal that fees for a public service should recover the cost of providing it and no more. To charge an enhanced fee so far above the actual cost of the service and to use the excess to "make good" cuts to funding in the justice system arguably amounts to a "stealth tax".
The only part of the Order which has not encountered objection is the proposal for the threshold at which a fee will be payable to be raised from £5,000 to £50,000.
As and when matters progress we hope to provide you with another update.