Probate Fees Increase = Stealth Tax

December 10th, 2018

Last week, the government’s plan to increase probate fees have come under fire for a second time after a Parliamentary Committee have assessed the matter at hand.

The notion was first tabled prior to the General Election in 2017, and was hurriedly put aside during the campaign, however, it has been resurrected in early November this year. This proposes that increased revenue will be used to bolster funding for the Courts & Tribunal service.

Initially it was heavily criticised by several groups including the Chief Executive of Solicitors for the Elderly and the government bowed the same pressure over the increase in fees for the wealthiest estates, which could have been up to £20,000 on estates over £2m, and lowered this to £6,000 as part of the banded scale. Even with the substantial discount this is a hike of some 3,700% over what is, at present, a flat fee of either £215 or £155 depending on weather you apply via a solicitor.

Last week the proposal came under fresh scrutiny from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JOCI), as they’ve said that any fee must be proportional to the service provided, and that this hike seems to be an ‘unexpected use of those powers’. Despite there being a statue stating that the Lord Chancellor can set probate fees(Section 92 of the Courts Act 2003), there are doubts that it was supposed to be used in such a way to raise revenue.

Ultimately, this is undoubtedly a stealth tax. Yes, the justice system has faced the same budgetary squeezes as all other major areas of the public sector, education, policing and the NHS being other notable examples. But is a tax set through the back door the answer? A raise is inevitable, the cost of legal services has risen steadily over the past decade so there’s no shock in this increase, but is this an abuse of power? It can definitely be perceived as such.

Will it get through the house or will it be rejected? Where should alternative funding come from?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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