Progress on UK probate delays

Emily Deane TEPUpdated 2 December 2019: STEP met HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) this week, together with The Law Society, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

HMTCS provided the following update on the Probate Service:

Timeframe

For personal applications HMCTS is now issuing grants in less than four weeks.

For professional applications grants are being issued within two to three weeks.

HMCTS issued 11,390 grants in the first two weeks of November.

HMCTS has identified that 16 per cent of stops are caused by a pending IHT421 and 11 per cent of stops are due to a missing death certificate.

The new online system will help to identify the reasons for other stops in due course.

Online system

HMCTS is promoting the use of its online system and is keen to see increased professional uptake. It is also looking at introducing a new paper form in the new year. Once introduced there will a transitional period to enable firms to implement.

The online service for Welsh applications will be implemented in the new year.

Customer Service

From 2 December 2019 the CTSC customer service centre will be open from 8am-8pm Monday-Friday and from 8am-2pm on Saturday.

If you continue to have issues with a probate application please contact HMCTS by email: probatefeedback@justice.gov.uk

Alternatively, contact STEP’s Policy Team and we will direct you to someone at CTSC who can assist.

STEP will continue to meet with HMCTS regularly next year to discuss future changes to the service and feedback from the industry.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

Meeting new friends and old at the STEP LatAm Conference in Sao Paulo

Enrique Martinez Guzman (right) I passed a busy few days in Sao Paulo last week at the STEP LatAm Conference, where I was representing STEP, together with our Chair, Simon Morgan TEP. The regional committee meeting and first networking reception set the tone for meeting many of our professional members, and it was a great pleasure to meet so many new faces.

The conference agenda ranged from the thought leadership of basketball legend Rick Fox on engaging with the new high net worths, and author and journalist Carlos A Montaner on populism in the new world order, through to practical case-study break-out sessions.

Among the highlights was the presentation of our second annual STEP LatAm Thesis Writing Competition to Enrique Martinez Guzman (pictured above, right) for his entry under the topic, ‘Tax consequences of transferring domestic and foreign property to a foreign structure’. Enrique will surely be a name to watch in the years ahead.

I was delighted to join Dayra Berbey de Rojas TEP to present the STEP Founder’s Award to two treasured members of the STEP family, John Lawrence TEP of the Bahamas, and Rosa Restrepo TEP of Panama.

In a show of support for the Bahamas during its recovery from Hurricane Dorian, members of the STEP LatAm Conference Committee presented a donation for relief efforts to Bahamas Minister of Financial Services Elsworth Johnson, raised from speakers who had generously waived their fees.

The final gala dinner was the perfect end to the knowledge exchange and networking, and made me reflect what a fabulous event this is and how well it supports the aims and mission of STEP in the region. It is also one that goes from strength to strength as membership in the region grows.

Our thanks to co-Chairs Ana Claudia Utumi TEP and Norberto Martins TEP, our sponsors, and the whole organising committee. I hope to see many of you again in Argentina next year. Will there be even more than this year’s 430 delegates next time? I would not be surprised.

Mark Walley is CEO of STEP

 

Trust Registration Service: clarification on reporting requirements

HMRCIt has come to STEP’s attention that in HMRC’s GOV.UK guidance on how to register a trust, the guidance about which beneficiaries need to be registered on the Trust Registration Service (TRS) differed in certain important respects from the HMRC guidance that was published on 22 November 2017.

For example, the GOV.UK guidance said: ‘When a member of a class becomes known they must be named, even if they have not benefited yet’, whereas HMRC’s 22 November 2017 guidance said: ‘…But where a beneficiary is un-named, being only part of a class of beneficiaries, a trustee will only need to disclose the identities of the beneficiary when they receive a financial or non-financial benefit…’.

STEP contacted HMRC about this discrepancy and it confirmed that the 22 November 2017 HMRC guidance ‘is still current and correctly reflects the requirement for trustees to disclose details of the identity of all named/known beneficiaries.’ HMRC has since made amendments to the GOV.UK guidance with regard to which beneficiaries must be disclosed.

HMRC also confirmed that although the GOV.UK guidance states that trusts that have registered for FATCA/CRS do not need to be registered on TRS, this is not accurate. The inaccuracy reportedly results from an incorrect transposition of guidance that was in the August 2018 Trusts and Estates Newsletter, which referred to trusts that need to report under FATCA or CRS that don’t have a Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR). To date, however, HMRC has not amended the GOV.UK guidance in this regard and STEP will be taking up this issue with HMRC.

Imogen Davies TEP, STEP UK Technical Committee

UK government drops probate fee increase

Daniel NesbittSTEP is delighted and relieved by the news that the proposed increase in probate fees in England and Wales has been dropped.

News reports emerged early on Saturday morning (12 October 2019), to the relief of practitioners and others in the industry.

‘STEP welcomes the news that the government has decided to scrap the proposed increase in probate fees,’ STEP Technical Counsel Emily Deane TEP said. ‘This follows many months of work by STEP and many others to highlight the unfairness of the proposed increase, which amounted to a stealth tax on the bereaved. This at last brings an end to the uncertainty and worry that these proposals have caused to grieving families.’

The controversial proposals to charge higher fees emerged in November 2018. An estate of GBP300,001 – 500,000 would have had to pay GBP750, a 249 per cent increase from the current GBP215 flat fee, while the largest estates of GBP2 million and over, would have been charged as much as GBP6,000; an extraordinary 2,691 per cent rise.

The government’s reasoning behind the increase was that the probate system should fund improvements to the courts service.

The increase mooted in November 2018 was essentially a re-hash of a proposal first put forward in February 2016, which had suggested even higher fees. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had issued a consultation paper increasing fees for estates of over GBP50,000 with a banded fee structure depending on the estate value. Larger estates faced a 13,000 per cent rise to GBP20,000.

STEP strongly opposed the proposed fees on the basis that they would be completely disproportionate to the service provided by the probate court, and would effectively be a new tax on bereaved families (consultation paper pdf).

STEP raised concerns on the grounds of fairness, practicality and legality, in particular that the measures being introduced via the Draft Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2017 might be ultra vires, i.e. beyond the power of the order. We obtained a legal opinion from leading expert in public law, Richard Drabble QC, who confirmed that ‘the proposed Order would be outside the powers of the enabling Act’ (read blog).

Many other responses echoed STEP’s views, with over 97 per cent of respondents opposing the proposals.

The House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (SI) also questioned the legality of the proposals, given that the new ‘fees’ looked very like taxes.

Despite the opposition, the Probate Fees Order was pushed forward, and was only dropped when the then Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in April 2017. The proposals then re-emerged in November 2018 and while the headline charges were less extortionate than were previously proposed, the same concerns about process and fairness remained.  It remains to be seen whether these proposals will re-emerge, for a third time, at some future point. If probate fee reform does rear its head again, we hope it will be done in a fairer and more transparent way, with greater consideration for bereaved families.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP

STEP attends Global Tax Advisers Platform conference in Turin

Emily Deane TEPSTEP attended the Global Tax Advisers Platform (GTAP)’s inaugural conference ‘Tax & the Future’ in Turin, Italy last week, alongside many leading European tax advisors. The event was hosted by the foundation of Confédération Fiscale Européenne (CFE) Tax Advisers Europe, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary (press release).

The GTAP was set up by the founding organisations, CFE, Asia Oceania Tax Consultants’ Association (AOTCA) and West African Union of Tax Institutes (WAUTI) in 2014 to facilitate networking links and enhanced dialogue between tax advisors throughout the world. Panel experts, including STEP’s Deputy Chair, David Russell QC TEP discussed a variety of prominent global issues including the future of global tax policy, the longevity of the global tax profession and business models and tax sustainability.

During the conference, the founding bodies of the GTAP signed the Torino-Busan Declaration, a binding document in which they define their main purposes: shaping the contemporaneous developments in the field of global taxation and ensuring the fair and efficient operations of national and international tax systems. GTAP sets out four key short-term priorities in the Declaration which include a focus on tax for growth, sustainable tax policies, tax and digitalisation and taxpayers’ rights and certainty in a fast-paced world.

The objective of the Declaration is to regroup the joint efforts of the GTAP members around these priorities, in order to draw attention on the need for recognition of the rights and interests of taxpayers, and the role of tax professionals.

STEP was a signatory to the Declaration and continues to promote the fair and efficient operation of national and international tax systems. A copy of the Declaration will be available on the CFE website in due course.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

Online probate applications update – Oct 2019

Rita Bhargava TEPHM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) recently organised a focus group, attended by practitioners from across the industry and representatives of various professional bodies, as part of its ongoing changes to the rules and processes around probate applications in England and Wales.

As Deputy Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee, I attended the meeting on behalf of STEP.

As part of the meeting, representatives of HMCTS confirmed that the new online probate application process was scheduled to go live today, 1 October 2019. At present the system will be unavailable for more complicated applications, for example where the deceased was domiciled outside the UK or where an executor has lost capacity.

Practitioners who do use the online system will benefit from increased transparency around the status of their application; with a dashboard function tracking the progress of an application and showing which stages it has completed.

During the meeting a number of other key points were raised that practitioners may find of interest:

  • All law firms will have to apply to use the new online service, with applications being approved by HMCTS.
  • Practitioners will still be able to make paper applications. There will not be a specific time advantage to using one method over the other, as both paper and online applications will be progressed under the same timeframes.
  • HMCTS representatives have provided the reassurance that as part of the new system the original will is still going be ‘forensically’ checked by two officials.
  • When an application is made for a grant, a sealed copy of the will won’t be provided unless specifically requested. This will incur an additional charge.
  • All paper applications must now be sent via recorded delivery.

STEP will continue to monitor the changes to the Probate Service (as well as the ongoing situation around probate fees), and will provide further updates where appropriate.

Rita Bhargava TEP is deputy chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee

EW probate delays: September update

Emily Deane TEPUpdate 21 November: HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has announced this week that all legal professionals’ probate calls have been centralised and are now dealt with by the Birmingham Courts and Tribunals Service Centre (CTSC). You will no longer be required to contact a local registry if you need an update on your client’s applications.

The CTSC will be able to confirm whether the application has been received, where the application is being processed, the current service level, when it expects the grant to be issued and whether a ‘stop’ is in place and the reason for it. HMCTS anticipates that the new process will allow the Registry staff resource to process your paper applications more efficiently.

The Probate CTSC helpline number is 0300 303 0648 and is open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm.

Update 22 October: HMCTS has confirmed legal professionals and personal applicants will be able to call the Birmingham CTCS from 4 November for an update on any application in England and Wales, provided it has been uploaded to its system.

The CTSC will be able to confirm:

  • if the application has been received;
  • where it is being dealt with;
  • the current level of service in that registry;
  • when its expects the grant to be issued;
  • whether a ‘stop’ is in place.

This information will be passed to the registry which will contact the legal professional/applicant directly.

HMCTS hopes to have the staff resource to open the Birmingham CTCS Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm, and on Saturday mornings from 8am to 2pm.

Contact details for this service will be available shortly.

In the meantime, please email probatefeedback@justice.gov.uk for queries rather than contacting individual probate registries.

Update 10 October: STEP met HMCTS at its Birmingham office yesterday where a few key points were made:

  • HMCTS is now issuing almost 7,000 grants a week.
  • It is inputting information received within three days.
  • It has confirmed that the Birmingham CTCS office can be called for an update on any application in England and Wales. It has a proper telephony system, and an agent will always answer a call and have access to the central system.
  • If members use the new online service, they will be notified by email if there are any issues, rather than by post. This may accelerate the speed of their application moving forwards.
  • HMCTS hopes to have the staffing resources to open the Birmingham CTCS office on Saturdays from 8am-8pm shortly.

Original blog 10 September: STEP met HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) this week, together with The Law Society, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and Solicitors for the Elderly, to obtain an update on the delays and disruption to the Probate Service in England and Wales.

HMCTS gave us the following update on work undertaken since our last meeting on 27 June.

Timescales

HMCTS is still receiving 700-800 applications a day from personal applicants and professional applicants.

It has processed 98,000 grants since April and has a backlog of applications from March.

It has increased staffing levels by 20 per cent.

It is striving to get back to its pre-March level of service, which was a 28-day turnaround for personal applicants and ten days for professional applicants.

It acknowledges that performance has not been acceptable but anticipates that delays will reduce over the coming weeks.

Stops/errors

HMCTS estimates that approximately 20 per cent of applications from professionals, and 25 per cent of personal applications need to be stopped for a variety of reasons. The most frequent problems are thought to be:

  • the IHT421 form has not yet been received;
  • not all executors have been accounted for;
  • the will has not been included;
  • names are spelt incorrectly; and
  • the forms have not been correctly signed.

The new online system (see below) will be able to more accurately identify the reasons for the stops and it is hoped this feedback will lead to fewer delays and a more streamlined process.

It is worth noting that when an application is stopped it takes some time for the registry to reconnect the paperwork. 

New system

The new online application system for professionals is due to be introduced by the end of October. Users will be able to register their organisation on the website, with no need for an invitation from the registry.

Each organisation will have a single login, to include all those using the service. Organisations will be able to suspend or terminate a person’s access if they are no longer using it.

Once registered, details of applications will be uploaded within 24 hours.

All of the main types of application will be available at launch, although some of the less frequently-used applications make take longer.

Key messages

HMCTS is encouraging registry staff to communicate via email, rather than post.

The digital pilot will be transferred in early October and launched by the end of the month.

HMCTS’ eventual aim is to digitally interact with HMRC on future applications, to reduce the delays and complications of paper trails.

The implementation of the new probate fee regime is not high on the political agenda, due to continued disruption and the prorogation of parliament.

HMCTS continues to apologise for poor service.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

The Informed Trustee – one year on

Julie HutchisonIt’s difficult to believe that it’s been a whole year since the launch of The Informed Trustee, STEP’s innovative course designed to equip current and aspiring trustees with the knowledge needed to be successful charity board members, reflects editor in chief Julie Hutchison TEP.

As we hoped at the outset, the course has supported a greater proportion of women and younger people to take on a trustee role. Our figures* show that 59 per cent of The Informed Trustee intake are women, and the students over the last year had an average age of 49-50. Both of these figures show a significant difference to those in the 2017 Taken on Trust report, published by the Charity Commission and others, which records trustees as 64 per cent male, with an average age of 60-62. This shows the course is supporting positive change in charity boardrooms. As well as individual registrations, a number of charities seeking to support groups of trustees have made enquiries for block bookings . One year on, and almost 100 students later, it’s good to see this happening.

The move to greater inclusivity is significant. Board diversity is not just a box-ticking exercise. The goal is to improve the nature and quality of charity board decision-making. A diverse board is better able to minimise ‘group think,’ and a range of voices is more likely to challenge established norms.

Another factor that marks out the course from others is the multi-jurisdiction choice. This is not just a course for those from one part of the United Kingdom. We have a writing team of 17 charity specialists from Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales, so that charity trustees, and those aspiring to be trustees, can find relevant course content wherever they’re based. It also reflects the cross-border reality of life in the UK, something I personally experience as a Scot who is on the finance committee of a charity in the north of England. Students can choose content based on their chosen jurisdiction; or view all for a complete picture across the jurisdictions if they prefer. The multiple-choice test at the end only shows questions from the jurisdiction selected.

With chapters covering communications and data, and a personal development pathway for trustees, the course offers a modern take on information needed by trustees in the 21st century, as well as core components on trustee responsibilities, accounts, risk management and fundraising rules, among others.

The decision to run the course online is also very significant. Students are free to dip in and out, or view course content on different devices, within the 12 month access period.

We have received some positive feedback from students. One wrote:

‘I feel it’s a valuable course for new trustees to gain knowledge, and for more experienced trustees as a refresh to ensure they are up-to-date. I would also say it is helpful for charity CEOs to access the course, so they too have an understanding of charity governance.’

Menai Owen-Jones, Trustee of ACEVO and CEO of The Pituitary Foundation.

On a personal note, launching The Informed Trustee has marked the moment in my working life when I moved from five to four days with Aberdeen Standard Capital, whose flexibility has been an enormous help as I created time for my ‘Friday life’ with The Informed Trustee and other projects. I’d also like to thank the writers from the various firms involved, for their support in creating the course content: BDO, Brodies, Chiene & Tait, Crowe, Edwards & Co, Finegan Gibson, Geldards, Hewitsons, Lindsays, Mills & Reeve, Moore Stephens, Shepherd + Wedderburn, Turcan Connell and Wrigleys.

Looking ahead, the course content is about to go through its 2019 refresh and update.  Public expectations of charities remain high; those trustees with The Informed Trustee under their belt will be better prepared for what lies ahead.

*Statistics taken from 88 per cent of students in year one of the course, who made a disclosure.

Julie Hutchison TEP is Founding Editor, The Informed Trustee

OTS inheritance tax review, second report: A welcome start, but could go further

The UK Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has published a second report following its ‘Inheritance Tax Review: Call for Evidence’ published in April 2018.

The first part of the review focused on inheritance tax (IHT) forms, administration and guidance and the OTS published their response in November 2018.

The second part of the review focuses on various areas of the IHT regime and how they interact with one another. The report, published on 5 July 2019, contains three areas of recommendations for the simplification of inheritance tax: lifetime gifts; interactions with capital gains tax (CGT); and businesses and farms in relation to agricultural property relief (APR) and business property relief (BPR).

STEP is very keen to see the inheritance tax regime simplified due to complexities in the current system, so any proposed simplification is to be welcomed. However, we are disappointed to note that there are no recommendations in relation to the nil-rate band, the residence nil-rate band or the treatment of trusts. We believe that the government could expand upon these recommendations and look at a wholesale change in policy towards IHT.

The summary of recommendations on page 13-14 are as follows.

Key area 1: Lifetime gifts

Gift exemptions package

1. The government should, as a package:

  • replace the annual gift exemption and the exemption for gifts in consideration of marriage or civil partnership with an overall personal gifts allowance
  • consider the level of this allowance and reconsider the level of the small gifts exemption
  • reform the exemption for normal expenditure out of income or replace it with a higher personal gift allowance

Gifting period and taper package

2. The government should, as a package:

  • reduce the 7 year period to 5 years, so that gifts to individuals made more than 5 years before death are exempt from Inheritance Tax, and
  • abolish taper relief 

3. The government should remove the need to take account of gifts made outside of the 7 year period when calculating the Inheritance Tax due (under what is known as the ’14 year rule’).

Liability for payment and the nil-rate band

4. The government should explore options for simplifying and clarifying the rules on liability for the payment of tax on lifetime gifts to individuals and the allocation of the nil-rate band.

Key area 2: Interactions with Capital Gains Tax

5. Where a relief or exemption from Inheritance Tax applies, the government should consider removing the capital gains uplift and instead provide that the recipient is treated as acquiring the assets at the historic base cost of the person who has died.

Key area 3: Businesses and Farms APR/BPR

6. The government should, as a package:

  • consider whether it continues to be appropriate for the level of trading activity for BPR to be set at a lower level than that for gift holdover relief or entrepreneurs’ relief
  • review the treatment of indirect non-controlling holdings in trading companies, and
  • consider whether to align the Inheritance Tax treatment of furnished holiday lets with that of Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax, where they are treated as trading providing that certain conditions are met

7. The government should review the treatment of limited liability partnerships to ensure that they are treated appropriately for the purposes of the BPR trading requirement.

8. HMRC should review their current approach around the eligibility of farmhouses for APR in sensitive cases, such as where a famer needs to leave the farmhouse for medical treatment or go into care.

9. HMRC should be clearer in their guidance as to when a valuation of a business or farm is required and, if it is required, whether this needs to be a formal valuation or an estimate. Other areas of Inheritance Tax.

10. The government should consider ensuring that death benefit payments from term life insurance are Inheritance Tax free on the death of the life assured without the need for them to be written in trust. 

11. The government should review the POAT rules and their interaction with other Inheritance Tax anti-avoidance legislation to consider whether they function as intended and whether they are still necessary.

Useful links

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

EW to extend online probate service

Daniel NesbittThe online system for England and Wales probate applications is to be extended further, after a Statutory Instrument was laid before the House of Lords last week.

The Non-Contentious Probate (Amendment) Rules 2019 updates previous legislation to allow solicitors and probate practitioners to apply for grants of probate without an invitation from a registry. It also modernises certain definitions, and corrects minor errors, in the Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987.

As the legislation is a negative instrument, no vote has been scheduled to take place in parliament, so unless a motion to stop it is tabled within 40 days, it will automatically become law, and is due to come into force on 1 October 2019.

The full text of the Statutory Instrument, along with further explanatory information, can be found here: The Non-Contentious Probate (Amendment) Rules 2019 (PDF) .

The changes are unrelated to the government’s Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018, which has still not been scheduled for a final vote in the House of Commons.

 

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP