Wills notification service overhaul could leave charities with 'huge holes' in finances

The warning is made by Fraser and Fraser after HM Courts & Tribunal Service announced the end of Smee & Ford's contract to provide the notification service

Charities could be "left with huge holes in their finances" by changes to the wills notification service, a probate research firm has warned.

In January, HM Courts & Tribunal Service 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.

The changes were made after an assessment of the service’s legal position.

But the firm Fraser and Fraser yesterday criticised the lack of information from HMCTS since that announcement, with the new system due to be in place from July.

Fraser and Fraser highlighted a comment made by Ed Owens, director of communications at HMCTS, at an Institute of Legacy Management conference earlier this month, in which he said he hoped charities would "get the same information and service in the interim and that you’ll barely notice a difference".

The Law Society has previously said that Smee & Ford reads 5,000 wills a week, and HMCTS figures show that 122,000 charitable bequests were made in 2017.

Neil Fraser, partner at Fraser and Fraser, said: "The clock is ticking and charities are understandably concerned. They could be looking at losing out on millions of pounds worth of funds if a system is not in place by the end of July.

"Charities could be left with huge holes in their finances and a wide range of good causes could miss out on the money they’re relying on, especially in the short term.

"Organisations across the sector need HMCTS to deliver a solution, and one that confirms with legal obligations in what is now a relatively short time period."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Bequests made in wills play a vital role in funding charitable work and we fully recognise the importance of the notification service to charities in supporting this.

"We are looking to establish an interim solution to ensure charities continue to receive a notification service beyond the end of July 2019 when the current arrangement with Smee & Ford ceases, and hope to announce this soon.

"A steering group of charity representatives has been established to help shape the sector’s longer term needs."

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