Freedom of Information request escalates row over probate changes

The decision to make radical changes to probate fees has drawn further criticism after it emerged this week that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) does not in fact know the actual costs in handling an average application.

The move away from flat fees to a sliding scale of charges – which will leave the largest estates with a £20,000 bill – is scheduled for next month.

While the MoJ has repeatedly argued that the new system will be fairer, new questions arose after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request confirmed that the department was unaware of the typical cost of processing probate.

The embarrassing admission is likely to fuel the argument that the Government has settled on an apparently arbitrary figure rather than a sum which bears any resemblance to the actual work required.

Steve Webb, a former Pensions Minister and now director at Royal London, the firm which submitted the request, is the latest figure to weigh into the row.

“The Government is treating bereaved families as if they were a ‘nice little earner’,” he said.

“It is one thing to make a reasonable charge for the provision of a public service.  But the Ministry of Justice has now admitted it does not know the cost of handling a probate application and sees no reason to find out what it is.

“This is clear evidence that the new charging structures are nothing to do with recovering the reasonable cost of processing probate applications.”

The increase in probate fees has also faced mounting opposition in Parliament itself.

Only last week a House of Commons committee suggested that ministers may have overreached their powers, with questions raised as to whether the proposed changes were tantamount to a tax increase – which would be unlawful without parliamentary approval.

Carter Lemon Camerons LLP Solicitors is a City law firm which provides wills and probate services with a personal touch to its clients. Unlike many City practices we are happy to act in smaller private legal matters, bringing the same care and consideration as we do to large commercial matters.  If you require advice on wills and probate, please contactIan West or Michael Woodward or telephone: 020 7406 1000