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Probate News 10 - July 2019

Read this issue to find out the results of the 2019 probate diversity survey and for the latest regulatory updates.

A catalyst for action: probate diversity survey results 2019

The 2019 diversity survey report is now available to download. While the diversity survey and reporting is a regulatory requirement, there are many benefits to understanding the value of a diverse workforce. Use this report to benchmark your practice against other practices and consider the broader diversity issues that might arise in your practice as a consequence. It can be used to help understand the profile of current teams, plan for future recruitment and identity opportunities.

We are grateful to the firms and their staff who have contributed to this review despite some of the difficult areas of disclosure. When this exercise was performed in 2017, only 67% of firms returned their results. This figure has jumped to 87% this year; 272 firms involving over 9,000 staff have responded. It’s fantastic to see this increased engagement and recognition that diversity has an important part to play in the development of your firm’s services.

We hold the strong view that people should be themselves and authentic at work as this helps build quality and integrity in the delivery of legal services. In this year’s report, the movement in metrics in the areas of care and disability, in particular, provide an evidence base for ICAEW initiatives such as being a Disability Confident Committed Employer. We encourage your firm to consider and develop your own policies around these too.

Proposed increase in probate registration fee, what is your view?

The funding of ICAEW probate-related activities follows a ‘user pays’ principle; a firm fee is set at a level to cover required costs that allow ICAEW to carry out its statutory and regulatory duties.

Fee increases are required, for example, if there are inflationary increases in operating or staff costs. All fee increases require pre-approval from the ICAEW Probate Committee and the Legal Services Board. For 2020, the Probate Committee is proposing to increase fees by 1% for ICAEW firms accredited for probate.

The survey will close on 31 August 2019.

ICAEW's Best Practice Guide to Price and Service Transparency

We encourage your firm to adopt the recommendations in this new Guide. At this stage, these are voluntary recommendations – however please be advised that we will need to review the degree of uptake in early 2020. If the Legal Services Board considers the uptake insufficient, they may request we develop this Guide into a set of compulsory regulations.

While the proposals in the Best Practice Guide to Price and Service Transparency are voluntary, we believe that going further than obligations dictated by the ICAEW Code of Ethics and adopting the recommendations in the Guide will not only benefit the consumer, but also have the potential to greatly benefit your firm. The move to transparency and service and price disclosure are essential parts of the development of a marketing strategy, making a firm more accessible to the consumer and helping you stand out in the legal services marketplace.

Government changes to probate fees delayed

The Government's new probate fee structure, that was expected to be introduced on 1 April 2019, has been delayed. This is because the statutory instrument introducing it has not been approved due to a lack of available parliamentary time, it may not now be laid until the autumn.

The acceleration of probate applications to beat the changes to the fee structure, coupled with teething problems on a new digital system has meant that significant delays have built up in the approval of probate applications. ICAEW, STEP and the Law Society have met with HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to express the concern of practitioners and the impact this is having, for example on property sales within an estate.

HMCTS is taking steps to improve the situation by recruiting more staff and speeding up the software implementation. We are due to meet with HMCTS again in August to assess progress.

As a reminder the new structure means that probate fees will be linked to the size of the estate and charged in the following banding structure:

Value of estate (before inheritance tax) Proposed fee
Up to £50,000 or exempt from requiring a grant of probate  £0
£50,000 - £300,000  £250
£300,000 - £500,000  £750
£500,000 - £1m  £2,500
£1m - £1.6m  £4,000
£1.6m - £2m  £5,000
Above £2m  £6,000