In January 2019, the country saw an average increase in train fares of 3.1%, sparking national outrage. With no change to the quality or quantity of the service provided by train companies, consumers found it difficult to stomach such an increase.
Why then, does an increase in probate fees that is as high as £6,000 seem to be slipping under the radar?
The current fee for extracting a Grant of Probate is a flat £215, or £155 if a solicitor is submitting the documentation. The current proposal is to change the fees to a sliding scale based on the value of the estate, ranging from £250 to £6,000. This increase appears to be in line with current policies as the costs of obtaining a death certificate have recently trebled.
There will be no change in how the Grant of Probate is extracted, nor will the service run more efficiently. Importantly, the administrative work undertaken by the Probate Office is the same, regardless of the size of the estate, giving no possible reason why the fee should vary based on the size of an estate.
This dramatic increase amounts to a stealth tax on a bereaved captive audience. As a Grant of Probate is required before estate funds can be freed up, families will be bearing the burden of these increased costs themselves. The funds themselves will go on to subsidise other parts of the court and tribunal service rather than being used to improve the service charging the fee.
There has been widespread outcry and objection from the legal profession over these fees. The Law Society has released an official statement identifying this increase as “a tax on grieving families” and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) has suggested that “to charge a fee so far above the actual cost of the service amounted to a stealth tax”.
As the motion passed through the House of Lords, those in attendance suggested that this increase was a misuse of the fee levying power of the Lord Chancellor. Lord Beecham moved to insert a reference to comments made by the SLSC at the end of the motion that referred to how the increase was “…a significant move away from the principle that fees for a public service should recover the cost of providing it and nothing more.”
This demonstration of discontent was largely absent from the recorded comments on the motion at the House of Commons. As the minutes of the attendance run to an inconsequential one third of the length of those recorded at the House of Lords, one might even draw the conclusion that those in attendance failed to voice their discontent, given that the motion was only narrowly passed by a majority of a single vote.
The fee increases are due to come into force from April 2019. However, all is not yet lost, as MPs will trigger one final vote by shouting “object” as the statutory instrument outlining these changes is read out in Parliament, which will happen before April.
The Law Society is calling on its members to write to their local MPs to urgently raise concerns regarding this stealth tax. The Government’s abuse of its powers to impose inflated fees is simply not acceptable. This is already a hard enough time in people’s lives - why does it need to be any more difficult than it already is?
You can contact your local MP by writing to them directly at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA, email them using the contact details found in Parliament’s Directory of MPs or telephone their office at the House of Commons on 020 7219 3000 and ask for them by name. Many MPs can also be contacted through social media and hold regular surgeries where questions can be posed to them directly.