OTS report supports STEP’s calls for simplification

Simon HodgesThe UK Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has published its first report of its review into inheritance tax (IHT).  The report, in which STEP is widely quoted, finds that the process for completing IHT forms is too complex and old fashioned, and that too many people are having to fill them in unnecessarily.

The OTS is undertaking this two-part review of IHT in response to the request from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in January 2018. Since the review was announced, STEP has been in regular contact with the OTS. STEP’s response to the consultation was one of more than 3,500 to be submitted to the OTS, with the overwhelming majority seemingly negative about the IHT process.

The report concentrates on the concerns and administrative issues facing the public and professional advisors when confronted with the IHT process and related forms. It includes a number of positive recommendations, such as potentially reducing or removing the requirement to submit forms for smaller or simpler estates, especially where there is no tax to pay; having standardised requirements; and automating the system by bringing it online.

STEP has long argued that the IHT system is too complex, and that any moves to simplify the process, particularly through the implementation of a digital system, will be beneficial for bereaved families.

The Chancellor will now review the OTS recommendations before deciding whether to implement or ignore them. The key recommendation from the OTS, that ‘The government should implement a fully integrated digital system for inheritance tax, ideally including the ability to complete and submit a probate application,’ will be the mostly keenly watched, not least by STEP members.

As the report notes, inheritance tax and probate are closely linked, so it is timely that the OTS recommends that HMRC and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) liaise on streamlining the payment and probate process. As has been widely reported, legislation currently before the UK parliament would see a radical change to the probate fee system in England and Wales, and will mean an increase in fees for the vast majority of families. This approach has already been criticised in the House of Lords, and this latest OTS report further highlights the need to simplify the tax system surrounding death, rather than complicate it further.

We will keep members updated.

Simon Hodges is Director of Policy at STEP

The Informed Trustee: three months on

Julie HutchisonIt’s now three months since the launch of The Informed Trustee, STEP’s online course for charity trustees in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. With Trustees’ Week being marked across the UK, it seems like a good moment to reflect on the story so far.

The Informed Trustee course was created as a practical response to two areas of concern. A series of reported events in charities brought the judgement and/or knowledge of charity trustees into question. The lack of diversity on charity boards also became evident. While the average age of a charity trustee is 61, figures show that 8,000 boards in England and Wales had an average age as high as 75. There’s also a gender imbalance of 64:36, with male trustees predominating.

Why online?

We chose an online training programme to remove a number of barriers limiting participation. Individuals anywhere can access course content, on whatever device is convenient for them, at whatever time of day. As the course is on-demand, attendees can dip in and out, approaching the course modules in whatever order they wish, over a 12-month period. We’re confident that this will broaden participation in trusteeship, by enabling trustees to fit their study around work and family commitments.

UK-wide

To ensure a truly UK-wide course, we sourced expert practitioners in charity law and finance from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, to ensure both quality and equality of provision for candidates across the jurisdictions.

We’re delighted to see that over 50 individuals are taking the online course, and that 64 per cent are women, a reversal of the usual figures in England and Wales as detailed in the 2017 Taken on Trust report (PDF). In addition, several candidates are in their 30s.

We’ve also seen group enquiries from charities that are considering The Informed Trustee course for their whole board, or for new trustees as part of their induction. I look forward seeing how take-up continues to expand over its first year, contributing to the development of charity trustees, which in turn will support charities in continuing to deliver confidently for their beneficiaries.

Julie Hutchison TEPFounding Editor, The Informed Trustee

UK trust taxation under review

Simon HodgesOn 7 November, the UK government launched its review into the taxation of trusts, almost a year after announcing it in the 2017 Autumn Budget.

The consultation, which will run until 30 January 2019, focuses on the principles of transparency, fairness and neutrality, and simplicity. The government’s stated aim is to ensure that the many people who use trusts will benefit from a ‘clear and transparent regime that is easy to understand’.

STEP welcomes the review, which provides an opportunity to address some of the complexities that exist around the current system of trust taxation and to suggest changes to the taxation of trusts that would be positive for both practitioners and their clients. It will also enable us to address any misconceptions around the uses of trusts.

Media around the consultation has, in many cases, focused on the issue of improving transparency in relation to trusts to prevent them being used for tax avoidance purposes. However, transparency is only one of the aims of this review, and the government acknowledges in the consultation document that there is already a large amount of ongoing activity in relation to trust transparency, and suggests that any new activity must take into account that the vast number of trusts are used legitimately.

STEP has already formed a working group to help respond to this important review, which includes senior members drawn from both the UK Technical and UK Practice committees. We have been in contact with HMRC since the review was announced, and will continue to engage as we develop our response further. We will keep members updated of further news in this area over the coming months.

Simon Hodges is Director of Policy at STEP

Government changes E&W probate procedure without consultation

Emily Deane TEP

This Blog was updated on 26/11/2018 – for latest developments, please see the update at the end of the article below.

The government has announced amendments to the procedure for applying for probate in England and Wales, with less than a month’s notice. The Statutory Instrument (The Non-Contentious Probate (Amendment) Rules 2018) will come into force on 27 November 2018.

The Rules were laid as a negative instrument, meaning they don’t need the approval of Parliament and have already been signed into law by the relevant Minister. The instrument can be annulled by Parliament before implementation, but this is rare.

In brief the amended rules:

  1. allow personal online applications for probate to be made by an unrepresented applicant;
  1. enable all applications for probate to be verified by a statement of truth (instead of an oath) and without the will having to be marked (by the applicant, solicitor or probate practitioner);
  1. extend time limits in the caveat process, which give the person registering the caveat notice of any application for probate;
  1. allow caveat applications and standing searches (which give notice of grants being issued) to be made electronically;
  1. extend the powers of district probate registrars equivalent to those of district judges; and
  1. make further provision for the issue of directions (instructions to the parties) in relation to hearings.

The Probate Service has accepted online applications from personal applicants (individuals not represented by probate specialists) since earlier this year, with a view to making the system simpler and ‘easier to understand’.

There are concerns that the introduction of the online service may discourage individuals from using a probate specialist where it may be advisable to do so, for example where the estate is taxable, has foreign or complex components, or may be disputed.

The announcement comes at the same time as the Ministry of Justice’s proposal to increase the probate application fee with a banded fee structure depending on the value of the estate.

STEP strongly opposed this new system when it was proposed in 2016, on the basis that it is disproportionate to the service provided by the probate court. It is effectively a new tax on bereaved families. The government intends to introduce this measure without any proper debate via Statutory Instrument (see STEP blog: The death tax returns).

STEP will continue to follow developments in this area.

UPDATE 26/11/2018

HMCTS has advised that they will shortly provide further information with regard to the template of the statement of truth, but at present it is their intention only to make small changes to the current oath format to ensure that it fits with the new procedure and to make sure that practitioners do not need to change the format completely. They will soon provide template wording that must replace the jurat at the foot of the oath, as well as wording to account for the removal of the need to sign the will.

HMTCS have also provided guidance on the changes to the way caveat applications can be submitted. This is as follows.

Please note the following changes to Rule 44 regarding caveats:

  • Rules 44(2) (b) and 44 (3) (a) and (b): Caveats can now be entered and extended via email as well as post. If the caveat is to be entered electronically, the caveat form should be emailed to the DPR solicitors enquiries address. The email attaching the caveat form should ask for the fee to be taken from your PBA account. The fee must be paid before the caveat is entered/extended and currently there is no provision to pay a fee electronically other than by use of a PBA account. The caveat should be in the prescribed form i.e. form 3 (precedent form number 41 in Tristram & Cootes Probate Practice, 31st Edition). Caveats received after 4pm will be entered the following day.
  • Rules 44(6),(10) and (12): The period for entering an appearance/summons for directions following a warning to a caveat is now 14 days (calendar days including weekends and Bank Holidays).
  • Rule 44(13): District Probate Registrars can now deal with all summons to discontinue caveats following an appearance – whether by consent or not. The summons should be sent to the registry where the grant application is pending and if there is no application pending to the registry where the caveat was entered.
  • Rule 44(14): District Probate Registrars can now deal with applications to enter a further caveat entered by or on behalf of any caveator whose caveat is either in force or has ceased to have effect under R44(7) or (12) and under R45(4) and R46(3). These applications should be sent to the registry where the caveat was entered.
  • R45(3) and R46(3): Registrars can now deal with applications under these rules.
  • R43: Standing Searches can now be entered and extended via email as well as post. If the Standing Search is to be entered electronically, form PA1s should be emailed to the DPR with confirmation that the fee is to be taken by PBA. The fee must be paid before the Standing Search is entered/extended and currently there is no provision to pay a fee electronically other than by use of a PBA account.

In addition, please note that caveats received after 4pm will be deemed as having been received on the following day.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

The death tax returns

George HodgsonUpdate 13 Nov: Please see the Statutory Instrument timeframe below.

Original blog: The UK government has re-introduced proposals to fund the courts service via charging higher probate fees. The proposals emerged late yesterday (5 Nov 18), a week after the budget.

While the headline charges are less extortionate than were proposed last year, for an estate of GBP300,001 – GBP500,000 the fee will rise 249 per cent to GBP750, and for a GBP1 million estate, the fee will rise to GBP4,000, an increase of 1,760 per cent (see table below).

According to 2014/15 figures, 261,500 estates went to probate, of which only 35,000 were under GBP50,000. This indicates that 85 per cent of estates, where probate applies, will therefore see an increase in fees.

Value of Estate New Fee % Change (from £215)
Up to £5,000 £0   0%
£5,000 – £50,000 £0 -100%
£50,001 – £300,000 £250 +16%
£300,001 – £500,000 £750 +249%
£500,001 – £1m £2,500 +1,063%
£1m – £1.6m £4,000 +1,760%
£1.6m – £2m £5,000 +2,226%
Over £2m £6,000 +2,691%

The new charges bear no relation to the cost of probate, and are simply another form of taxation, sneaked in through the back door.

The government has failed to explain why it is choosing to place this burden on bereaved families, many of whom will have spent months or years paying expensive care fees for their elderly relatives. It is this group which has been singled out to shoulder the cost of the courts service via this additional tax, to be paid on top of IHT and legal expenses.

The government still plans to try and introduce this measure without any proper debate via statutory instrument. STEP has obtained a legal opinion which confirms that, given the tax nature of this measure, this is an abuse of the parliamentary process, a view shared by the House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (link below).

We will continue to press for a fairer and more transparent approach to probate fees reform.

George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP.

Update re Statutory Instrument timeframe

For members wishing to know the next stages of the statutory instrument the process in the House of Lords is as follows:

The instrument is laid before Parliament and is subsequently considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee:

  • The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments usually considers an instrument after two sitting weeks have elapsed. This process involves looking at the legal content of statutory instruments, for example whether the drafting follows the correct process and if the relevant powers have been interpreted correctly. The Committee meets on Wednesdays.
  • The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee usually considers instruments within 12-16 days of them being laid in Parliament. The Committee examines the policy in each instrument. It draws the House of Lord’s attention to interesting, flawed or inadequately explained measures. The Committee meets on Tuesdays and publishes its reports on Thursdays.

Once both committees have considered the instrument and given their advice a debate can take place in the House of Lords.  Peers can either approve the instrument, decline to approve it (which would stop the measure) or regret a part of it (which doesn’t stop it, but may influence how it is implemented). The timing of this debate will depend on the other items in front of the House of Lords.

This process can be accelerated under certain circumstances but there is also a large amount of Brexit-related secondary legislation both awaiting consideration by the Joint Committee as well as quite a few other instruments listed as awaiting an Affirmative Resolution.

The process in the House of Commons is as follows:

At the same time as the above process for the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments an instrument is referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee:

  • Delegated Legislation Committee: Made up of between 16 and 18 members it is tasked with ensuring an instrument is legal and within scope of its enabling powers. MPs not serving on the Committee can attend to speak on the issue, but only those on the Committee can vote.

After the Committee has met, the instrument is debated in the House of Commons.

If approved by both Houses of Parliament it is signed into law by the relevant Minister.

It is estimated that the average time for the process to be completed in the House of Commons is 6 to 7 weeks.