The “time has come” for solicitors and other professional users to apply for the vast majority of grants of probate online, the government said yesterday.
But noting “the professions’ reservations and the constructive spirit in which an incremental process has been advocated” by them, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said grants of letters of administration would not be mandated at this stage.
There will be limited exemptions for “unusual and often complex” applications, such as to prove a copy of a will when the original has been lost and for rectification of a will.
The MoJ has asked the president of the Family Division to amend the Non-Contentious Probate Rules and they are due to come into force on 2 November.
The Probate Service issues around 260,000 grants each year; 180,000 applications are made by solicitors and other probate practitioners, with the rest by individuals. The most recent figures indicate that a third are made online.
The online application pilot began in November 2017 and was rolled out to all practitioners last October, with user feedback showing the majority of users satisfied with the service.
The decision follows an MoJ consultation in August to which 22 responses were received.
The MoJ response document said: “While there was a spectrum of views, it would be fair to say that a majority felt mandating online professional user applications was agreed in principle, [but] they argued it was premature and should be implemented in phases.
“Other respondents openly welcomed the proposal and others opposed it vehemently.”
It suggested that, as many have yet to use the system, “the government’s sense is that the problem is to a large degree the perception of the service’s efficiency rather than the actual performance.
“This may in part be to early experiences during the early stages of the online system when teething issues occasionally occurred and have since been rectified.”
The MoJ pledged to continue improving the system, but said that, unless mandating was introduced, “and very soon”, the full benefits of an online system would not be achieved.
“There is a danger that for some parts of the profession the move to full mandating will always seem to be premature and best deferred to another day.
“Embracing a fully modernised online service is seen by most as inevitable, and for the HMCTS [HM Courts & Tribunals Service] reform project the future operating model of the service is premised on professional user applications being almost wholly online.”
It argued that the online process would “increasingly lead to an improved service leading to savings of time and cost to HMCTS and professional users alike, as well as offering a number of other benefits”.