Delays at Probate Service starting to ease, says minister

Freer: Improvement measures having some effect

Delays at the Probate Service are shortening in the wake of a “distinct improvement in recruitment, competency, productivity and call handling”, the government said this week.

Justice minister Mike Freer told the House of Commons that the past 12 months have seen the largest volume of probate applications received by the service since 2006.

In November, the justice select committee launched an inquiry into probate in the wake of mounting concern about how long the process was taking.

Responding to a question from Conservative MP John Stevenson, Mr Freer said that, in response, the Ministry of Justice had increased staffing levels by more than 100 people and “streamlined processes”.

As a result, the level of grants issued has been running at about 8,000 more than receipts over the past two months, with the average mean length of time for a grant of probate following receipt of all the documents required was now 12 weeks.

The official statistics from HM Courts & Tribunals Service have not yet caught up with this. The most recent, for November 2023, showed the time from submission to grant issue was 15.8 weeks, and 13.9 weeks from document upload to grant. Both figures are record highs.

Mr Stevenson argued that “enough is enough”. He continued: “If the service has not materially improved in the next three months, will the minister take the appropriate action and remove those who are clearly underperforming, so that the service can return to the level it once was at?”

Mr Freer sought to reassure the MP that “a new management team is in place and we are now seeing a distinct improvement in recruitment, competency, productivity and call handling, and for the past few months disposals have outstripped receipts”.

He acknowledged that the Probate Service was “not yet where we would want it to be”, but said the measures introduced to improve performance were having some effect.

Commenting on the debate, the Institute of Legacy Management agreed that there were early signs that the service “may have turned a corner”.

It added: “Nonetheless, we’re all too aware that there is still a hefty build-up of unprocessed estates in the system and how challenging it can be for bereaved families and charities alike when waiting for probate to be granted.”

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