The government has confirmed that controversial increases in probate fees will not go ahead as planned. Fees will now remain at a flat rate, after proposals for a new tiered approach met with strong opposition on the grounds they amounted to a ‘stealth tax’ on bereaved families.
Following a period of consultation, plans to charge higher probate fees were set out in the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order in November 2018. This proposed abandoning the existing fixed fee of £155 for grant applications made by solicitors and a charge of £215 for those made by individuals for estates valued at over £5,000. Under the new proposals, probate fees would have risen to a sliding scale of up to £6,000 depending on the size of the estate.
The government also proposed raising the threshold for probate charges from £5,000 to £50,000, indicating this would take around 25,000 estates a year out of fees altogether. However, an estimated 280,000 families annually would have faced higher charges under the new system. The government claimed that the increases would fund improvements to the courts service, with forecasts estimating increased income of £145m a year from 2019-20, rising to £185m in 2022-23.
Opposition from the public, MPs, the Law Society and other groups meant the plans were not brought to a vote, and subsequently the fees were not introduced as originally scheduled in April 2019. The move was then put on hold following the prorogation of parliament.
Now the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, has confirmed that the changes have been abandoned altogether. The Ministry of Justice will now review probate charges as part of an annual assessment of fees charged for all proceedings in civil and family courts.