I have today laid before Parliament new legislation to implement a new, banded structure of fees for a grant of representation, commonly known as a grant of probate.
Fees are an essential element of funding an effective, modern courts and tribunals service, thereby ensuring and protecting access to justice. The Government is investing £1 billion to modernise and upgrade the courts system so that it works even better for everyone, including victims, witnesses, litigants, judges and legal professionals. This includes introducing changes to our Probate Service, who offer an important service to those who are bereaved. The reform of the service allows people to apply for a grant of probate online, access assisted digital support for those who many not necessarily have the skills or access to engage digitally and empowers individuals to make applications themselves instead of needing to instruct and pay for solicitors. This aims to reduce the burden on applicants, by providing a more efficient and simpler application process.
But such a courts system is simply not possible without proper funding. Since the previous Government set out its intentions to introduce a banded fee structure for grants of probate in February 2017, a number of concerns were raised. We have listened to these very carefully, and under today’s proposal we have revised fees so they will never be more than 0.5% of the value of the estate. Moreover, by raising the estate value threshold from £5,000 to £50,000, we will be lifting around 25,000 estates annually out of fees altogether. For those who do pay, around 80% of estates will pay £750 or less, and all income raised will be spent on running the courts and tribunal service.
It has long been the case that the users of our courts make a contribution to its costs, and we believe this remains both relevant and reasonable – minimising the burden on other taxpayers. Crucially, by asking those who use the courts to pay more, where they can afford to do so, we are able to fund areas where we charge no fees to vulnerable victims and users, including for example domestic violence and non-molestation orders, and for cases before the First-tier Tribunal concerning mental health.
This new banded fee model represents a fair and more progressive way to pay for probate services compared to the current flat fee and reflects our commitment to protecting access to justice by ensuring we have a properly funded and resourced courts system. We are also confident these fees will never be unaffordable. The cost of the fee is recoverable from the estate and executors have several options to fund it. Moreover, the Lord Chancellor retains a power to remit a fee if he considers there are exceptional circumstances.
We will also publish a guidance document before the Statutory Instrument comes into force, entitled Guidance on Ways to Pay for Probate Fees. This will benefit from external stakeholder input, and will help applicants to choose the option to pay which most suits their circumstances, providing reassurance at a difficult time.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords