The government’s proposed changes to the probate system have already come under fire from the Law Society and solicitors; however, they have now been heavily criticised by a backbench Conservative MP. Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for north East Somerset, has expressed grave concerns about the governments’ probate plans and criticised his party’s proposals to introduce a huge increase in probate charges, claiming they will be seen as a ‘tax rather than a charge’. In his expressed opinion, it is wrong for any government to be seen to be introducing ‘stealth taxes.’
The probate changes which are due to come into force in May, 2017, will introduce a new scale of probate charges which directly correlate to the size of the estate in question – rather than the current blanket one-off fee. Existing probate fees are set at £215, or £155 for those applying through a solicitor: however, under the new proposals some estates could end up paying 129 times more than they currently do.
Under the new scheme estates valued at between £50,000 and £300,000 will pay £300, and estates valued at between £300,000 and £500,000 will be faced with a probate bill of as much £1,000. For estates worth more than £2m, the fee will increase to £20,000, an increase of almost 10,000 per cent for executors acting alone. Only estates valued at under £50,000 will benefit from the new arrangements as no fees will be payable. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has argued that the plans will introduce a ‘fairer banded system’, in which more than half of estates will pay nothing and 92% will pay no more than £1,000, and that any money the increased fees generate will be used to fund the courts system and build a ‘world-leading justice system.’
Speaking after chancellor Philip Hammond delivered the spring budget last week Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs:
‘I see that it [the new charge] is likely to be judged by the national statistics people as a tax rather than as a charge, and I do not think it right that the government should introduce stealth taxes.’
‘Probate charges should relate to the cost of the probate work, which is broadly irrelevant to the size of the estate. There might be some more work for bigger estates, but the difference will not necessarily be as large as has been proposed.’
Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments have since received some backing from solicitors who have told the Law Society Gazette that there was ‘little if any’ extra work involved in granting probate on an estate of £5m than there is on a £50,000 estate.