Probate registry delay complaints continue to mount

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Trusts & Probate on Tuesday, February 20th, 2024

For several years now (i.e., since the pandemic), the probate process has been fraught with severe delays, leading to increased financial hardship and even cancelled house sales for thousands of families. According to official figures, waiting times almost doubled between April 2022 and April 2023, with some families waiting more than 11 months for grant of probate.

The delays have attracted significant national press attention and complaints from bereaved families, whose lives have been put on hold for many months. In November 2023, the Justice Committee launched an inquiry into probate to investigate capacity, resources and delays across the probate service and to examine bereaved people’s experiences of the process.

STEP finds significant failings

In response to the inquiry, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) published its own research based on a survey of its members.

It found that:

  • 76% of members had experienced between one and five cases of a house sale falling through due to probate delays
  • 94% said that the reputation of probate practitioners had been damaged
  • 64% of members said they had witnessed financial hardship for beneficiaries.

Probate registry errors were also blamed for stopped applications by 68% of respondents, whilst 61% pointed to a lack of senior staff to review and sign off applications.

More staff and more resources

The message from STEP practitioners was clear: the probate services needs more staff, more training and more financial resources.

Ninety-four percent of members said that the UK government should appoint more probate registrars and 82% suggested more financial resources for staff training and upskilling.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Recent figures published by His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) have revealed welcome signs of improvement, with the shortest average waiting time since July last year. For the 24,020 grants of probate issued in December 2023, families waited an average of 13.6 weeks from submission to grant – vs 15.8 weeks in November and 13.9 weeks in July.

HMCTS also recently announced that it would be cutting its helpline hours for the next three months, in order to redeploy staff to tackle the backlog.

Even so, heartbreaking reports continue to be published shining a light on the grief, stress and financial hardship that probate delays are continuing to cause. A recent article, for example, highlighted the plight of Georgina Smith, who has been waiting for probate to be granted for over three years. Her father passed away in 2021, and since then his estate has been frozen. The Inheritance Tax owing on his estate and all her legal bills have all had to come out of her own pocket.

Control what you can control

The stress of probate delays on top of the grief of losing a loved one can feel completely overwhelming. Having a solicitor on your side who will be proactive and chase up delays on your behalf can help take the burden off your shoulders and ensure that probate is granted as quickly as possible. Whilst we can’t control what is going on at the probate registry, our experienced Wills, Trusts & Probate solicitors can ensure they do everything they possibly can to keep the ball rolling.

If you are at the beginning of the probate process, then please do contact our empathetic team, who will be here to support you from start to finish. Call us on 0330 221 8855 or email enquiries@attwaters.co.uk and we’ll be happy to chat through your case.

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