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Probate service commits to clearing backlog that has delayed charities receiving legacies

12 Nov 2020 News

The probate service has increased its capacity and expects to be able to clear its current backlog, which slowed charities’ legacy income in 2019 and 2020.

The HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) released a statement detailing how it plans to address its backlog of about 29,000 cases awaiting probate. Probate needs to be granted before assets in a will can be sold or transferred to beneficiaries, including charities.

HMCTS’ backlog dated back to 2019, but worsened this year as a result of administrative challenges brought by lockdown as well as an increase in applications due to the pandemic.

Sector organisations have welcomed the measures, with the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM) expressing “confidence” that HMCTS will be able to resolve the backlog as well as deal with new applications.

Backlog and pandemic

The probate service ended 2019 with a backlog of 21,500 cases, mostly due to operative and administrative issues that had resulted in longer waiting times. Issues were solved by the start of the new year, HMCTS said, but the pandemic brought a fresh set of challenges, such as the need to operate remotely, as well as an increase in demand.

Between March and June, HMCTS issued an average of 4,373 grants per week, 12% down on its five-year average of 4,950. 

HMCTS responded by taking on additional staff, reducing the waiting time on digital applications and trialling a new digital notifications solution. It currently has a backlog of about 29,000 cases, but expects to be able to resolve it.

Capacity to increase

It said: “We are currently training even more additional staff to help us process the applications we receive for probate. We are expecting our capacity to process grants to reach more than 6,000 grants a week from December and we anticipate having that capacity until the end of March but will of course review if it needs to be longer.

“Subject to a further spike in applications for probate we believe we are sufficiently resourced to handle the rise in applications expected in 2020 Q4. We also should then have capacity to clear the backlog that arose in Q2 and Q3 of 2019 and the middle of 2020.

HMCTS also committed to releasing data on their progress every month.

Confidence in HMCTS capacity

Matthew Lagden, CEO of ILM, expressed satisfaction with the improvements carried out by HMCTS.

He said: “These steps give us confidence that HMCTS has the capacity in place to deal with the backlog and the expected rise in applications through the winter.” 

Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, added: “Charitable income has been heavily hampered by the pandemic this year, making legacies all the more important in enabling charities to keep their frontline services going. 

“HMCTS recognises how much the sector relies on gifts in wills and we are hugely grateful for their continued commitment to work with us to resolve the backlog. This commitment not only helps charities to forecast future income, but to plan their vital services going forward.”

Legacies to generate £40bn for charities over the next decade

Earlier this week, a group of organisations in the charity legacy sector including ILM and Remember A Charity released a report on the future of legacies, Strengthening charities’ resilience with legacies.

Projections by Legacy Foresight included in the report estimate that cumulative legacy income for charities will amount to £40bn over the next decade.

The report includes a series of recommendations to charities on how to continue legacy fundraising during the pandemic, from the need to be sensitive towards the current situation, to improving their will writing support programmes and their supporter care, to working to grow the overall market.

Meg Abdy, development director, Legacy Foresight, said legacy income has been “fundamental to charities’ sustainability during the pandemic”.
She said: “For many donors, leaving a gift in their will is the ultimate expression of a lifetime of support. To demonstrate that you need – and indeed deserve – that gift, your charity must continue to prove your relevance, show your appreciation and build personal connections.”

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