North Yorkshire MPs Julian Sturdy and Kevin Hollinrake are supporting local solicitor Rachel Roche’s attempt to highlight serious concerns over the Government’s decision to increase probate fees to create what has been described as a “tax on grieving families.”
Mr Sturdy wrote to the Minster in charge of introducing the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 and expressed his disappointment that issues he raised on behalf of Rachel Roche, the award winning founder of Roche Legal, had not been addressed, including the ability of families to pay the new fees whilst the finances of an estate are frozen. As a result, the York Outer MP has asked the Minister for “a more detailed consideration of the reasonable objections” that were raised.
Mr Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) has also highlighted Ms Roche’s concerns and has been informed by Lucy Frazer, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, that the Government intends to press ahead with their planned changes. However, Labour MPs are set to force a House of Commons vote on what The Law Society has described as a ’stealth tax’ rather than a fee to administer the service. The Government’s planned probate changes, which affect England and Wales, are set to generate £145m in the next financial year and this will be spent on improving the courts and tribunals service.
Around 230,000 families a year will be hit by the changes, due in April and under the plans probate charges will be linked to the size of the estate with the wealthiest estates (those valued at more than £2m) facing a £6,000 charge. It would replace the current flat fee of £215, or £155 for those applying through a solicitor, on estates of any size. As part of the changes, estates valued at under £50,000 will be exempt from charges.
Rachel Roche, who has offices in York and Harrogate, believes the Government is fundamentally wrong to tax the bereaved to fund the courts and tribunals system. She said: “Under the proposed probate changes, one in five families can expect to pay £2,500 in fees for estates estimated at £500,001. Other parts of the British Isles do not and will not be charging anything like the proposed probate fees for the same job. In Northern Ireland the bereaved will continue to pay £237. Clearly, there is irregularity and unfairness in both the approach and the substance of what is proposed.
“In the UK we do not have hypothecated taxation. We have general taxation, national insurance and VAT. We should not be paying for public services out of the fees paid by users of associated services and arguably not by the users of the service at all
“At what point do users become additional tax payers? How does the Chancellor control taxation if government departments are levying their own taxes outside his remit? The bereaved are not choosing to use the courts – they are obliged to do so in accordance with the law.
“The Ministry of Justice continues to fail to address the key question – how are families to meet these charges when estates are frozen on death until a Grant is obtained? It is no longer easy to borrow money from Banks to fund this sort of fee and for those families where the wealth is tied up in property rather than liquid assets there will be no other way to fund the fees than through borrowing. Solicitors are not permitted to act as Banks for their clients under the solicitors accounts rules and anyway, they would be unable to fund several cases at once on this level of fee even if they wanted to do so.”