Minister lifts threat of £6,000 probate fees from grieving families

Death tax hike is axed: Victory for the Mail as minister lifts threat of £6,000 probate fees from grieving families

  • Justice Secretary scraps the death tax hike to hit grieving families with high bills
  • Robert Buckland abolished increase in probate fees introduced by Theresa May
  • The death tax was set to come into force next year but now it will be stopped

A swingeing ‘death tax’ which was set to hit grieving families with bills of up to £6,000 has been scrapped.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has abolished the controversial planned increase in probate fees introduced by Theresa May.

Set to come into force next year, it would have meant almost 300,000 families a year facing larger probate fees.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, pictured outside Downing Street this week, has abolished the controversial planned increase in probate fees introduced by Theresa May

But, in a major victory for the Daily Mail, Mr Buckland said he has decided the fees rise is not ‘fair and proportionate’ and will be stopped.

Currently, families pay a flat fee for probate of as little as £155, the charge for securing legal control over a dead person’s estate.

But under the new system, the charge would have risen according to the value of the estate.

It is estimated that 280,000 families a year would have to pay more, with 56,000 facing bills of between £2,500 and £6,000. 

The review of court fees, which will start within weeks and report in months, will only involve ‘small adjustments’ to cover costs. Officials insisted the idea of charging grieving families thousands of pounds is ‘dead and buried’ [File photo]

The law had already been changed meaning that if no action had been taken the fees increase would have been expected to come into force next year.

It would have raised the Ministry of Justice an extra £185million a year from the charges by 2022/23.

Instead ministers have ordered a wider review of court fees. Last night Mr Buckland praised the Mail’s campaign and said he had ‘listened very carefully’ to our readers’ views.

‘The Daily Mail has done some excellent work on this issue,’ he said. ‘I have listened very carefully to the strong views aired on proposed new probate fees.

‘While fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, they must be fair and proportionate. We will withdraw these proposals, and keep the current system while we take a closer look at these court fees as part of our annual wider review.’

The probate fee increase would have come into force at the same time that ministers are cutting inheritance tax. From April, the threshold at which inheritance tax is imposed will increase to £1million for couples wanting to pass on their main family home [File photo]

The review of court fees, which will start within weeks and report in months, will only involve ‘small adjustments’ to cover costs. 

Officials insisted the idea of charging grieving families thousands of pounds is ‘dead and buried’.

A government source said: ‘Robert was hugely impressed with the Mail’s campaign, and resolved as soon as he became Justice Secretary 11 weeks ago to kill this proposal.

‘These fees are reviewed annually, but only small adjustments to cover costs are on the cards. Any plan to charge people thousands of pounds is, quite simply, dead and buried.’

The current probate fees are £215 for individuals and £155 if applying through a solicitor. But changes to the law were announced last November to introduce a sliding scale of fees linked to the value of the estate.

It would have meant administrative fees ranging from £250 to £6,000. At the time ministers defended the move, arguing that only very large estates would pay the highest fees.

But critics said it was a stealth tax which would hit people when they were dealing with the death of a loved one.

The fear was that families would be forced to take out loans to pay for the cost of probate fees and access their inheritance.

The measure was quietly pushed through by a committee of MPs on a knife-edge vote. Critics said it was wrong to use fee-raising powers, which are designed to cover the cost of processing paperwork, as a way to raise money.

The Law Society said the increase was an ‘unfair way to squeeze money out of vulnerable families’.

Probate must be granted before families can release any money from an estate – for example by selling a house.

The probate fee increase would have come into force at the same time that ministers are cutting inheritance tax. From April, the threshold at which inheritance tax is imposed will increase to £1million for couples wanting to pass on their main family home.

Labour has proposed a £9billion increase in inheritance tax, alongside increases in capital gains tax.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘Fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, but we have listened carefully to concerns around changes to those charged for probate and will look at them again as part of a wider review to make sure all fees are fair and proportionate.’  

The current probate fees are £215 for individuals and £155 if applying through a solicitor. But changes to the law were announced last November to introduce a sliding scale of fees linked to the value of the estate [File photo]

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