HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has announced an interim arrangement with Smee & Ford so that charities can continue to receive alerts about money that has been left to them in wills, but should expect the costs to increase.
Earlier this year HMCTS decided to end the current arrangement with 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 began consulting with charity stakeholders, with the intention of designing a new system.
But charities have been frustrated by the lack of detail that has been forthcoming from HMCTS. They were also worried that if there was no new service in place by the end of July, when the contract had been due to end, charities could face problematic delays in accessing money that had been left to them.
The interim solution, which is expected to last about one year, will see Smee & Ford notify charities when they have been left a legacy and now also include a copy of the will for clients. The firm will be writing separately to its customers.
In a letter to charities, Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive of HMCTS, said: “HMCTS is acutely conscious of both the importance of legacy income in supporting charitable work and the value of an effective notification service to charities themselves. I hope the solution I have outlined gives reassurance to the sector that the existing services will continue uninterrupted and that we can work together to help ensure a longer-term solution that works for all.”
But she also said: “While the cost to anyone applying for a copy of an individual will or grant will reduce as a result of this change in fees, Smee & Ford’s operating costs will increase from August as it will be obliged to pay the statutory fee for all wills and grants. We understand that participating charities will be asked to pay more for each notification received but that the service will be enhanced by the inclusion of a copy of the relevant will.”
Today’s announcement has been welcomed by Remember a Charity and the Institute of Legacy Management.
Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said: "Ensuring the continuity of a reliable wills notification service is an absolute priority for the charity sector, so we would like to thank HMCTS for its collaborative approach to resolving this matter.
"The will-writing environment is rapidly changing, which presents huge challenges and opportunities for good causes which rely on the public's generosity of gifts in wills. We look forward to continuing to work with HMCTS and across government to ensure that any longer-term arrangements will build on these foundations and better support the needs of smaller charities and a wider range of causes."
‘We will keep the costs as low as possible’
In a statement this morning, Smee & Ford said it would try and keep the costs “as low as possible”.
It added that by providing a copy of the will at the same time, it would enhance “the information available to charities at the earliest opportunity”.
The changes will take effect in August.
The statement said: “Over the past six months of uncertainty we have been encouraged by the strength of feeling about the service from the sector and the fantastic support from charities that value our work. We remain dedicated to continuing to provide a forum setting for charities to come together with us to discuss future improvements and how we can enable best practice with regards to legacy notifications. We are delighted to be able to continue to play our part in assisting charities to secure charitable gifts to fund their future work."