Committee of MPs votes in favour of probate fee reform

The measure that would see the flat rate dropped and bands brought in is likely to come into force in April, despite fears it could cost charities dear

Reforms to increase probate fees that could cost charities an estimated £10m a year have moved a step closer to being passed into law after a committee of MPs voted in favour of the changes.

Last year the government announced that it was revising its previous proposals for reforming probate fees, which were dropped because of the 2017 general election, and would be pushing ahead with removing the existing flat rate of £215.

Instead, it said, probate fee bands would be brought in, with estates of more than £50,000 paying between £250 and £6,000, and the maximum amount reserved for estates worth more than £2m.

The Institute of Legacy Management has warned that the changes could cost charities £10m in legacy donations each year.

A general committee of MPs voted yesterday by nine votes to eight to pass the statutory instrument on the probate reforms to the final stage of the legislative process.

This means the reforms will be put to parliament and voted on only if any MP raises an objection.

There will be no further debate on the issue in the House of Commons. If the measure is passed the increases will come into force in April.

During the committee’s debate on the issue, which lasted less than 30 minutes, Lucy Frazer, a justice minister, said that the changes to probate would help fund the courts and would make the probate system more efficient.

But Labour MPs on the committee opposed the reforms, with Gloria De Piero, the MP for Ashfield, telling the committee that "the proposals are clearly disproportionate and excessive, but they also make a mockery of the long-standing principle that fees for a public service should recover the cost of providing it, and no more".

In December the House of Lords voted in favour of the changes to probate fees, although a number of lords severely criticised the changes as a stealth or death tax, rather than an enhanced fee.

The changes to probate prompted a front-page story in today’s Daily Mail, accusing the government of "sneaking through a stealth death tax".

The reforms have also been opposed by many in the charity sector and the legal profession.

Nicola Evans, charities counsel at BDB Pitmans, said: "It is disappointing that it has got this far. If MPs do not act now to oppose the order, they will be allowing a minister to impose a new tax by the back door, with resulting loss to charities."

The ILM said: "We have long been campaigning against this rise on behalf of our members because we believe it will hit charities hard and could cost them in the region of £10m annually in legacy income.

"Despite our objections, the government has gone ahead with the proposals and, from April, the fees will increase. We were pleased, however, that eight of the 17 MPs that voted were against the changes, and we look forward to seeing the improvements to HM Courts & Tribunal Service that the Ministry of Justice has promised will be funded from the increased fees."

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