Smee & Ford will still notify charities about gifts in wills after contract ends

Its notification service will stay in place for at least 12 months until a long-term solution is found, says the firm's chief executive

The legacy information company Smee & Ford will continue to notify charities when they have been left gifts in wills after its contract with the government ends this month, HM Courts and Tribunal Service has said.

The company’s notification service will remain in place for at least the next 12 months until a long-term solution can be found, Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive of HMCTS, said in an open letter published today.

In January, HMCTS announced that it would be ending the legacy information provider Smee & Ford’s contract to provide charities with a paid-for notification legacy notification service after discovering that the arrangement was not consistent with its duties.

But in May, the probate research firm Fraser and Fraser warned that charities could be "left with huge holes in their finances" if an alternative system was not found before the contract terminates on 31 July.

In today’s letter, Acland-Hood said ensuring continuity of service to charities had been HMCTS’s key goal.

Her letter revealed that Smee & Ford’s continued service would mean a slight increase in the cost for charities because the company would be required to pay new statutory fees.

But she added that, although charities would have to pay more for each notification, they would now automatically receive a copy of each will in question.

Third Sector was unable to reach anyone from Smee & Ford on Thursday afternoon to confirm how much the cost increase was expected to be.

Acland-Hood said the HMCTS would be holding a workshop with charity representatives and policy staff from the Ministry of Justice later this month as part of the process of designing a solution.

"HMCTS is acutely conscious of both the importance of legacy income in supporting charitable work and the value of an effective notification service to charities themselves," she said.

"I hope the solution I have outlined gives reassurance to the sector that the existing services will continue uninterrupted and that we can work together to help ensure a longer-term solution that works for all."

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Smee & Ford said: "Over the past six months of uncertainty we have been encouraged by the strength of feeling about the service from the sector and the fantastic support from charities who value our work.

"We remain dedicated to continuing to provide a forum setting for charities to come together with us to discuss future improvements and how we can enable best practice with regards to legacy notifications. We are delighted to be able to continue to play our part in assisting charities to secure charitable gifts to fund their future work."

The Institute of Legacy Management said it had been working with HMCTS and other organisations to ensure a smooth transition and a workable interim arrangement.

"We are very grateful for the large amount of work by all parties that has gone on behind the scenes to make this possible, and to HMCTS for listening to our concerns about the consequences of a break in service and acting upon them," the statement said.

The legacy consortium Remember a Charity welcomed the announcement.

Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said: "Ensuring the continuity of a reliable wills notification service is an absolute priority for the charity sector, so we would like to thank HMCTS for their collaborative approach to resolving this matter.

He added: "We look forward to continuing to work together with HMCTS and across government to ensure that any longer-term arrangements will build on these foundations and better support the needs of smaller charities and a wider range of causes."

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