Ministers push ahead with controversial probate fee increase

The government plans to replace the flat rate with fee bands, which some believe will cost the charity sector £10m a year

The government is pressing ahead with increases to probate fees that could cost charities £10m a year despite opposition from the charity sector and legal professionals.

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.

A committee of MPs has now been set up to pass the Non-Contentious Probate (Fee) Order – which includes the fees increase – and will debate the changes on 7 February.

The committee will be chaired by the Conservative MP James Gray and includes nine other Conservative MPs and eight from Labour.

Once the reforms pass the committee, as is expected, they will need to be rubber-stamped by the House of Commons, which usually takes place the following day. 

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

A statement from the ILM said: "The ILM is naturally disappointed that the government has decided to press ahead with the changes to probate fees, despite the concerns raised by ourselves, the Law Society and the House of Lords.

"We would still ask MPs to consider whether the charges are justified. We also hope that the government will consider exempting charitable estates from the new charges."

Nicola Evans, charities counsel at the legal firm BDB Pitmans, said it was very disappointing that the government saw changes to probate fees as an appropriate way to tackle under-resourcing in the courts system.

"The government is seeking to stretch a power, never intended to apply to the probate fee – which already makes the probate service self-financing – to create a new death tax by the back door," Evans said.

"The new tax would run a coach and horses through the exemptions in the inheritance tax regime, but the government has not tried to measure the cost to the charity sector.

"Charities have recently been given guidance on principles of ethics. We should expect a similar standard from our parliamentary committees."

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