System to alert charities to donations in wills set for biggest shake-up since the 1970s

01 Feb 2019 News

HM Courts and Tribunals Service has announced that it will change its system for alerting charities when money has been left to them in someone’s will.

HMCTS has decided to end its current arrangement with private firm Smee & Ford, which has provided a paid-for notification service to participating charities for many years, because “it is not consistent with the department’s legal duties”.

It is now working with charity stakeholders including Acevo, NCVO, the Institute of Fundraising and the Institute of Legacy Management to formulate a new system which will be in place from 31 July.

A spokesperson for HMCTS said this would be the biggest change to the system since the 1970s but said the nature of the new system was to be discussed.

They were, for commercial sensitivity reasons, unable to elaborate on the nature of the legal duties that the current system was not meeting.

Charities pay an annual fee to use the current service but the HMCTS spokesperson was unable to say how much this is, whether it is weighted depending on charity size and whether this is likely to change.

They did not know how many charities used the service either.

Susan Acland-Hood, HMCTS chief executive, said in her letter to charities that more than 122,000 charitable bequests were contained in wills in 2017.

She said: “I recognise the value to charities of receiving early notification of bequests left in wills and we are committed to working alongside the sector to establish a new, sustainable arrangement that works for everyone.

“Our decision to end our current arrangement with Smee & Ford is no reflection on the service provided by them but comes as a result of an assessment of our legal position.

“We will continue to work closely with the company to seek to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible arising out of these changes over the next period.”

'Envy of the world'

Smee & Ford said it was informed yesterday of HMCTS’ decision to serve notice on its long-standing agreement and said it has received many messages of support from charities that use the service.

A spokesperson said: “We will also be working with HMCTS to discuss future arrangements and we remain committed to providing the sector with these invaluable services in the longer term.

“As always, we encourage feedback to drive further improvements both directly and via the channels relating to this review.”

Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said the current system was “the envy of the world” and that his organisation would be hosting a discussion on potential changes at its next forum.

He said £3bn a year is generated from gifts in wills and that all charities are reliant on the current outsourced service to Smee & Ford.

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