What’s happening with the Probate Fees order?

Daniel Nesbitt

The status of the EW probate fee order is the same as it has been since February – it is still waiting for its final stage. As it was not scheduled for debate next week, ie w/c 13 May, it will not be possible to bring the new fees in before June.

Following last week’s Business Questions (where the future parliamentary business is set out) there has been a slight change of tone from the government on scheduling the order. In answer to a question, the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said the order had already been debated in committee and an approval motion would be brought in due course. Previously she had said ‘where a reasonable request for a debate has been made, time should be allowed for that debate’.

This may mean the government will actively try to avoid a full debate in the House of Commons. Labour seems keen to bring it to a vote and has raised it at a few business questions.

Parliament is due to have its Whitsun Recess from 23 May to 4 June 2019, so that will further limit opportunities to bring the order to the House of Commons. The summer recess date has not yet been announced and will likely depend on the Brexit negotiations, and whether a deal can be passed (the last two summer recesses have started in late July, which may be a guide).

The summer recess will mark the end of the parliamentary session, and whilst secondary legislation not passed before this point is usually abandoned it can be brought back in the following session.  

There are rumours that Theresa May is not planning to hold a substantive Queen’s Speech at the opening of the next session, which would mean there would only be a limited programme of legislation for the government and it would be easier to find time to fit it back in. However, the government may try to bring the order to its final stage before the summer recess.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

5AMLD consultation: STEP’s view

Emily Deane TEP

The UK Treasury has published a consultation paper on the transposition of the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD), which expands upon the scope of registration for trusts and widens the accessibility provisions to the beneficial ownership records. The 5AMLD Directive provides for public access, but it is up to each Member State to decide whether or not they will restrict this.

Express trusts

5AMLD will require that all UK express trusts register with HMRC, not just those with UK tax consequences (as was the case with 4AMLD). It will also bring into scope non-EU resident trusts that own UK land or property. STEP is concerned that under 5AMLD, a much wider range of trusts will need to be registered. Express trusts may include co-ownership of land, insurance trusts and other dormant trusts, which will significantly enhance the number of trusts that need to be reported. The consultation seeks to clarify the definition of express trusts, which we hope will provide some clarity and narrow the scope.

Access to the register

There will be expanded accessibility provisions. In the UK, the records will be accessible by law enforcement agencies, any UK obliged entity that enters into a business relationship with a trust, and anyone who can show that they have a ‘legitimate interest’ in the data. An exception is that if a trust has a ‘controlling interest’ in a non-EU company, then anyone will be able to access the information by making a written request and no legitimate interest is required. A trust will be deemed to hold a controlling interest in any corporate or other legal entity when the trust has 25 per cent or more of either the voting shares or other means of control over that entity as defined in the Persons with Significant Control (PSC) guidance. It is currently unclear how legitimate interest applications will be dealt with by the government since ‘legitimate interest’ is not defined within 5AMLD.

Legitimate interest

The government will need to decide whether or not requests for trust data meet the definition of legitimate interest. The current train of thought is that those with legitimate interest should be limited to people with active involvement in anti-money laundering or counter-terrorist financing activity, or those who have reason to believe or evidence that a particular trust or person is involved with money laundering or terrorist financing.

We hope that the government will require strong evidence of illegality and/or wrongdoing that clearly implicates the trust concerned before agreeing to consider a legitimate interest application. There are many people who seek to obtain confidential information about individuals and families with wealth for purposes other than the exposure of illegality or wrongdoing. People are often keen to obtain information about the affairs of the wealthy and those in the public domain, for example, and we are concerned that vague assertions of impropriety could be used to obtain confidential information about family trusts.

The consultation does, however, acknowledge that many trusts are used for children and vulnerable adults, and requests for personal information on either of these will be given ‘special consideration’ and will possibly even be withheld, which we fully endorse.

Registration deadlines

For trusts already in existence on 10 March 2020, the government proposes a deadline of 31 March 2021 for them to register. This gives a long lead-in time, given the greater number of trusts that will need to be registered.

For trusts created on or after 1 April 2020, the government proposes that the trust should be registered within 30 days of its creation. The government envisages that this approach will be the most straightforward, as registration can occur as part of the set-up process, when the required details should be readily available to trustees/agents. The proposal for registration within 30 days for new trusts means there is no single deadline each year and it seems sensible for the trust to be registered at the same time it is created.

It is also intended that this 30-day deadline will be used for any amendments that need to be made to the trust register data, for example, to update an address or change a trustee.

Penalties

Due to the fact that 5AMLD extends registration to non-taxpaying trusts, the government considers that the self-assessment penalty regime is not a suitable basis for the 5AMLD penalty framework. The new regime is also being consulted on within the paper.

STEP will be submitting a response to the consultation, which closes on 10 June 2019. The transposition deadline is December 2019, with an implementation deadline of January 2020. There is an extended trust register deadline for the UK of March 2020.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

HMRC’s five traps to avoid with CRS/FATCA reporting

Emily Deane TEPHMRC has identified the most common errors made by financial institutions (FIs) when filing their Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) returns, which include Common Reporting Standard (CRS) and Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) reportable information.

1. The FI misunderstands what constitutes an undocumented account

FIs are wrongly reporting accounts as ‘undocumented’ on the basis that a self-certification requested from an account holder has not been completed.

Accounts should only be reported as undocumented where they meet specific criteria, which include that the account has either a hold-mail instruction or a ‘care-of’ address. The full criteria can be found in CRS, Section III: Due Diligence for Preexisting Individual Accounts, subparagraphs B(5) and C(5). HMRC guidance is available at IEIM402850 and IEIM403040.

Any accounts that are correctly reported as ‘undocumented’ must show Great Britain as the residential country code.

2. The FI misunderstands what information is required to be reported 

Some FIs only complete the mandatory fields in the schema or portal, even though they hold additional information which is legally required to be reported. In addition, some FIs fill in mandatory fields with ‘n/a’ or similar.

CRS and the UK-US FATCA Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) state which information is required to be reported. Where a schema or portal field is not mandatory, there can still be a legal requirement to provide this information. For example, where a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) or date of birth is held or obtained by the FI, it is required to be reported even though it is not down as a mandatory field within the portal or schema. Where an address is held, the full address must be provided, even though the only mandatory field is for ‘city’ in the schema or portal.

3. The FI reports accounts held by persons who are not reportable persons

FIs are reporting publicly traded corporations, as well as related entities, governmental entities, international organisations, central banks, and financial institutions. In most cases, such accounts are not reportable. HMRC guidance at IEIM402010 outlines which accounts are not reportable.

4. The FI misreports joint accounts and/or partnership account

Some FIs confuse the treatment of joint individual accounts and partnership accounts.

Joint individual accounts must be reported as individual accounts with the entire balance or value of the account, as well as the entire amounts paid or credited, attributed to each holder of the account.

A partnership is defined as an entity for reporting purposes, and accounts held by partnerships should be reported as entity accounts, with the respective due diligence and reporting requirements applied.

5. The FI reports entities as controlling persons 

Some FIs report entities as the controlling persons of entity accounts, resulting in trusts and companies being reported as controlling persons. However, entities cannot be controlling persons; under CRS and FATCA, ‘controlling persons’ means‘natural persons who exercise control over an entity. In the case of a trust, such term means the settlor, the trustees, the protector (if any), the beneficiaries or class of beneficiaries, and any other natural person exercising ultimate effective control over the trust, and in the case of a legal arrangement other than a trust, such term means persons in equivalent or similar positions. The term ‘Controlling Persons’ shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force.’

Full HMRC guidance on AEOI reporting can be found at: International Exchange of Information Manual.

Please email Emily.Deane@step.org with any further queries.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

GDPR Roundtable

Emily Deane TEPSTEP’s GDPR working group recently hosted a roundtable event that enabled representatives from professional bodies, including the Law Society, ICAEW and CIOT, to update each other on their progress in relation to GDPR implementation. It is widely felt by the private client industry that when the legislation was drafted it was not designed with trust and estate practitioners in mind and there are some significant grey areas in practice.

Key issues that continue to be an industry concern discussed were:

  • How the GDPR applies to lay trustees and personal representatives.
  • How non-legal advisors process special category data.
  • How the GDPR impacts upon international transfers.
  • Queries in relation to joint data controllers and confidentiality.
  • GDPR and its impact upon engagement letters.
  • GDPR and its impact upon attorneys and deputies.
  • Erasure of files and filing system requirements.

STEP’s working group is in the process of preparing a joint paper that it will submit to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) identifying the practical issues that have arisen for trust and estate practitioners. We hope that the ICO will be able to address some of the gaps in the guidance and legislation.

STEP has scheduled another roundtable in February 2019 to further discuss these issues and aims, to provide STEP members with a best practice position and guidance in due course. In the meantime, STEP has published an update to its briefing note on the GDPR, listed below.

Please note that STEP will be publishing a webinar in January 2019, recorded by the chair of STEP’s GDPR working group, Edward Hayes TEP of Burges Salmon, that will offer some interim guidance on the application of the GDPR to trust and estate practitioners.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

Cross-border protection of vulnerable adults in Europe under discussion

Emily Deane TEPSTEP took part in the EC-HCCH Joint Conference on the Cross-Border Protection of Vulnerable Adults last week in Brussels, to discuss the ratification of the Hague Convention of 13 January 2000 on the International Protection of Adults (the Hague Convention) at EU and global level and the possible future EU legislative initiatives in this field.

The event, organised jointly by the European Commission and The Hague Conference on Private International Law, brought together legal practitioners, judges, academics and government officials who deal practically with the challenges associated with the cross-border protection of vulnerable adults in Europe and beyond.

STEP’s EU cross-border expert Richard Frimston TEP joined panellists to discuss the need for an international and regional legal framework for the cross-border protection of vulnerable adults from the perspective of organisations providing services and/or protection. Richard was accompanied by representatives from Dementia Alliance and Alzheimer’s Disease International, AGE Platform Europe, CEOs in global banking and the President of the International Union of Notaries (UINL).

Richard is the coordinator of the Protection of Adults in International Situations Project Team and spoke on behalf of STEP as a member of the Board and Co-Chair of the Public Policy Committee. He delivered some pertinent points on the need for a protective framework for our increasingly aged society and those living with disabilities, and their supportive loved ones, including family members and guardians, in accordance with their human rights.

He expressed concern with powers of representation which are generally not measures of protection, unless confirmed with sufficient legal process, and the manner of exercise of such powers of representation being governed by the law of the state in which they are exercised. He argued for more balance between the protection and autonomy of individuals, and called for improved methods of powers of representation to be accepted cross-border.

The conference emphasised that this work is invaluable since the Hague Convention determines which courts have the jurisdiction to take protection measures, and which law is to be applied in circumstances when a vulnerable person requires it.

Importantly it establishes a system of central authorities to cooperate with one another and locate vulnerable adults, as well as providing information on the status of vulnerable persons to other authorities. Although much work has been carried out already, more could be done to improve the quality of European law, increase practical guidance in the European legal field and enhance European legal integration.

STEP is asking members for any practical examples of when they have encountered difficulties in practice in relation to England and Wales not having ratified the Hague Convention. Please email STEP’s policy team if you have any feedback on this issue, at step@policy.org.

STEP will keep you updated on the outcome of these discussions.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

Committee draws probate fees legislation to UK parliament’s special attention

Daniel NesbittUPDATE 07/12/2018

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments’ full report (PDF) has now been published and includes the following conclusion:

The Committee draws the special attention of both Houses to this draft Order on the grounds that, if it is approved and made, there will be a doubt whether it is intra vires, and that it would in any event make an unexpected use of the power conferred by the enabling Act.

The Committee reached the same view regarding the government’s attempt to raise probate fees in 2017. Underlining this position, the report notes that the Ministry of Justice’s arguments did not ‘dispel the Committee’s doubts about vires expressed in its report on the 2017 Order’.

The depiction of the changes as a ‘fee’ was also challenged by the Committee, which felt the new banded system bore the characteristics of a tax. The report noted that the higher payments were disproportionate to the actual cost of the service and that the measure represented what was in effect a type of stamp duty on probate applications.

The views expressed by the Committee match the legal opinion STEP obtained from Richard Drabble QC in response to the 2017 proposals.

ORIGINAL BLOG 6/12/2018

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has scrutinised the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018, and drawn it to parliament’s special attention.

The committee is responsible for examining the technical aspects of secondary legislation; ensuring that the drafting is correct, clear and within the powers granted by the act under which they are being made. Although it can highlight measures it believes to be of concern, the Joint Committee cannot block or amend legislation itself.

The other committee tasked with examining secondary legislation, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in the 6th Report of Session 2017–19 (PDF) has also drawn parliament’s attention to the measure, calling it a ‘stealth tax’.

The next stage for the order in the House of Lords is for it to be voted on; and as an affirmative measure it will require a majority to pass. In the House of Commons a delegated legislation committee will be convened to scrutinise the legislation.

The Joint Committee’s full report on the order, setting out its detailed views, is yet to be published but it is expected to be released tomorrow (Fri 7 Dec 2018).

STEP will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates where appropriate.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

UK Labour party tables motion against probate fees rise

Houses of Parliament, LondonThe UK government’s plan to increase probate fees has been criticised by the opposition in the House of Lords.

Labour’s Justice Spokesperson, Lord Beecham, has tabled the following motion of regret in relation to The Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018:

‘Lord Beecham to move that this House regrets that the draft Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 will introduce a revised non-contentious probate fee structure considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to be “so far above the actual cost of the service [it] arguably amounts to a stealth tax and, therefore, a misuse of the fee-levying power” under section 180 of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014; and that this Order represents a significant move away from the principle that fees for a public service should recover the cost of providing it and no more.’ 6th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (Sub-Committee A).

As statutory instruments cannot be amended, this type of measure can put parliamentarians’ disapproval on record, if passed. Motions to regret are usually voted on at the same time as the legislation.

The probate fees order is currently awaiting scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. As noted by Lord Beecham’s motion, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has already voiced its concern [PDF] about the proposals.

STEP will continue to monitor the situation and will provide further updates where appropriate.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

House of Lords report criticises HMRC’s treatment of taxpayers

HMRCThe House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has found that HMRC is failing to guarantee fairness for taxpayers by failing to differentiate between users of sophisticated tax avoidance schemes and ordinary citizens who break the law through uninformed or naive actions.

In its report, The Powers of HMRC: Treating Taxpayers Fairly (PDF), the committee found that declining resources had left HMRC unable to tackle tax avoidance and evasion whilst ensuring taxpayers are treated fairly. Highlighting a number of areas where the HMRC’s conduct appeared disproportionate, the committee recommended further work take place to ensure there is sufficient oversight of the department.

The report heavily criticised the process HMRC uses to introduce new powers, noting that too often specific solutions were identified by the department before any consultation on the wider objectives. The committee recommended that HMRC listen more carefully to the views of tax and business experts during future consultations, to ensure new legislation is properly targeted.

The committee said new measures on offshore time limits should be withdrawn, pending further discussions between HMRC and tax professionals. The plans would require those with offshore elements to their tax affairs to keep records for up to 12 years to deal with HMRC questions. Any new legislation should be more proportionate and targeted than the current plans allow.

There was heavy criticism for proposed new civil information powers, which would allow HMRC to seek information from third parties without the agreement of the tax tribunal, or the relevant taxpayer. The committee said HMRC had failed to offer a convincing rationale for the change, and recommended it be withdrawn ahead of further consultation.

The committee also noted that the government has a responsibility to give HMRC sufficient funding to be fair to taxpayers. The Treasury is recommended to assess whether the department is adequately resourced as part of the 2019 Spending Review.

The next stage in the process is for the government to respond to the committee’s findings. STEP will monitor the situation and provide updates on any further developments.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

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