Inheritance Tax  

Govt U-turns on probate fee hike

Govt U-turns on probate fee hike

The government has dropped its controversial plans to increase probate fees and will carry out a review of the system instead.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the Daily Mail the review would consider small adjustments to cover costs.

He said: “While fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, they must be fair and proportionate.

"We will withdraw these proposals, and keep the current system while we take a closer look at these court fees as part of our annual wider review.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, but we have listened carefully to concerns around changes to those charged for probate and will look at them again as part of a wider review to make sure all fees are fair and proportionate.”

Under the original plans, first unveiled in 2016, the minimum probate fee – paid when administering someone's estate after they die – would increase from £215 to £250 for estates with assets of less than £500,000. 

It would have been set at £4,000 for estates valued at more than £1m and £6,000 for estates worth more than £2m.

This charge is additional to inheritance tax.

Law Society president Simon Davis welcomed the news, saying that the planned increase would have been “a tax on grief”.

Mr Davis said: “We campaigned vigorously against the increase on behalf of bereaved families and are relieved the government has listened to reason.

“It is inherently unfair to expect the bereaved to fund other parts of the courts and tribunal service when they have no other option but to apply for probate.

“In its review of court fees government should bear in mind that it is a false economy to impose charges that go beyond cost recovery. Equal access to justice is a fundamental part of the rule of law.”

There has been some debate about the nature of the fee, with some calling it a tax.

However, if it were a tax, the plan to increase the fees would have to be included in the Finance Bill and so debated and voted on in parliament. A fee increase does not have to be voted on by MPs.

The fee hike was originally meant to come into force from April, but was delayed due to ongoing parliamentary Brexit discussions.

An approval motion needed to be scheduled in the house of commons for the new fee structure to be introduced but this wasn’t possible as discussions about the UK’s exit from the European Union took precedence. 

amy.austin@ft.com

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