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Regional probate registries are facing the axe under Ministry of Justice plans to consolidate the service.
Ministers say this will create a centre of expertise that will benefit all those using the system.
Staff members at 10 regional sites across the UK have already been informed of plans to reduce activities with the view to eventual closure, the Law Society Gazette reports.
The Ministry’s long-term proposal is to move probate services to the Courts and Tribunals Service Centre (CTSC) in Birmingham, with some administrative functions taking place at a separate site.
However, concerns remain over the wisdom of removing the face-to-face element of a service that requires trust and confidence in the person administering it.
Neil Fraser, partner at Fraser and Fraser, said: “At a time when there are concerns about new digitised processes and the associated potential for fraud, it seems a little rushed to be looking to close regional registries.”
A spokesperson for the HM Courts and Tribunals Service commented: “Courts and Tribunals Service Centres are a key part of our £1bn Reform Programme and will ensure we deliver better services to all court users. As we move work to the first two CTSCs staff in existing centres will need to be moved into new roles. These changes will be gradual and our priority is to support employees throughout the process and find them suitable alternative roles.”
In addition, these latest government proposals come at a time when controversial changes to probate fees are planned.
Under the new sliding scale structure estates valued at over £2m will pay £6,000 in fees instead of the current £250, while estates of less than £50,000 would not have to pay anything. According to government estimates around 80 per cent of estates will pay £750 or less. The proposal is yet to be discussed in parliament because of delays linked to ongoing issues with Brexit.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer has said the reforms are predicted to bring the Ministry of Justice additional income of £145m in the next financial year.