Probate body pledges to improve services for charities as caseloads fall

22 Nov 2023 News

Adobe Stock / Tomasz Zajda

The HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has pledged to improve its services for the charity sector as it reported a fall in probate cases. 

Yesterday, Remember A Charity and the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM) revealed that they had secured commitments from HMCTS to provide “more in-depth reporting on estates at probate” and introduce a new charitable estate indicator.  

HMCTS confirmed to Civil Society that it will try to better identify charitable gifts and speed up the time it takes to process probate applications.

It said the number of outstanding cases has continued to “fall significantly”, following the recruitment of over 100 employees between November 2022 and March this year to help clear the backlog. 

Commitments to improve services for charities

HMCTS told Remember A Charity and ILM that September and October have been “particularly productive months, reducing the backlog with provisional data showing significantly higher output of grants issued than applications received”.

It is now aiming to reduce unprocessed applications in the system to around 30,000 estates at any one time.  

To enhance the service and forecasting information available for charities named in wills, HMCTS has committed to:

•    Providing more regular updates and forecasts, including greater clarity on the level of stopped estates held up in the system.

•    Delivering a programme of webinars for charities to provide further information and an update on the probate registry’s approach.

•    Adding a form field on digital applications (80% of cases) identifying whether the estate includes a charitable gift, enabling better future tracking, forecasting and normalising the inclusion of charitable gifts in wills.

HMCTS: Number of outstanding cases continues to ‘fall significantly’

HMCTS said that the number of cases has fallen by 9,000 since the end of August, with the average wait time for grants expected to reduce to eight weeks by March next year.

This means that charities could receive their bequests faster. 

A spokesperson said: “We know the big difference donations left in wills can make to charities which is why we’re committed to improving the services we provide to the sector.
“This includes better identifying those estates which include charitable gifts and speeding up the time taken to process probate applications – with the number of outstanding cases continuing to fall significantly.”

Measures could help charities forecast future legacy income ‘more accurately’

Matthew Lagden, chief executive officer at ILM, said: “We’re delighted that, after extensive consultation and dialogue with ourselves and Remember A Charity, HMCTS has been prepared to adopt the ideas we put forward. 

“There is no doubt that, once in place, these measures will help charities to forecast future legacy income more accurately, access regular updates and information and, above all, realise gifts in a more timely fashion as waiting times come down. We thank HMCTS for their understanding and their positive commitment towards supporting the charity sector.”  

Lucinda Frostick, director of Remember A Charity, added: “Legacy giving is a lifeline for thousands of charities and community-based organisations and, particularly during such tough times for the sector, any delays can have a hefty impact on charities and their ability to deliver services.  

“We know that there is a way to go yet before much charitable income will be released from the probate system, but the recent progress and these new measures are great news for charities.

“In particular, the ability to identify the proportion of charitable estates in the system at any one time really could be transformative. Not only will it help charities budget for likely legacy income, but it effectively hardwires the charitable ask into the application process, helping to normalise legacy giving to executors, solicitors and others.”   

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