As I come to the end of my term as Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee, I wanted to reflect on some of the developments since I took on the role in January 2017.
Raising our profile
Internally at STEP, much of the emphasis over my time as Chair has been on raising STEP’s profile. From the ‘Talk to a TEP’ public-awareness campaign and accompanying website, advisingfamilies.org, which has seen 130,000 visits and 15,000 ‘Find a TEP’ searches since its launch 18 months ago, to the ‘Grow with STEP’ member recruitment campaign launched earlier this year, which has led to a 250 per cent increase in visits to the ‘Join’ section of the STEP website. It’s great that resource is being put into these important projects, which should help build greater awareness of STEP – ultimately benefiting all members.
Battling probate fees
Externally, my time as Chair has been dominated by political turmoil, the Trust Registration Service and of course, probate fees. The latter has once again reared its head in recent months, and like many of you, I am disappointed the government is again threatening to increase probate fees to extortionate levels that are wholly disproportionate to the costs involved. It has failed to take into account any of the concerns raised last year when this was first mooted. Ironically, it comes at a time when the government is introducing online application processes for probate, and removing the need to swear papers, making the cost of an application cheaper and more efficient. STEP has once again been active in highlighting concerns around the proposed measures, and we are pleased to see our arguments echoed by the House of Lords committees that review Statutory Instruments, which have both stated that the proposals amount to a ’stealth tax‘ and a ’misuse of the fee-levying power’. We hope these concerns are enough to stop the measure being approved as it is debated by parliament in the coming weeks.
So what’s coming up over the next few months?
Last month, branch chairs from all over the region gathered for the England and Wales Branch Chairs’ Assembly. Over 20 branches were represented, and it was wonderful to meet so many branch chairs. It was a great opportunity to discuss how to increase engagement with members, how to support branches, and to ask branches what they expect from STEP. It was also the perfect time to hear about work being done by STEP, in particular the Member Journey project, which involves examining the experience of a member from their first contact with STEP and throughout their membership to see where improvements can be made. This is an important and far-reaching project, which will be worked on throughout 2019.
Another big project that will be launched shortly is the all-new STEP Directory. 2018 saw the last hard-copy STEP Directory and Yearbook, and in January 2019 STEP will launch the new online-only Directory. The new Directory will build on the existing online member-search facility, with upgraded functionality and new features, such as a Firm Search. Members will have access to an extensive and up-to-date network of firms and practitioners for referral and business development, and clients will be able to search for qualified professionals and firms. As the new Directory will be extensively promoted throughout 2019, you will want to make sure your contact information is current, and your profile properly showcases your expertise and experience. Log on now to update your details.
Separately, work is also underway to upgrade the STEP website to make it more user-friendly; to continue to build on the success of STEP’s Employer Partnership Programme; and to develop STEP’s qualifications so that students can tailor elements of the STEP Diploma so that it is more relevant to their specific areas of practice.
Sadly, I will be stepping down as Chair at the end of December and take this opportunity to welcome Denese Molyneux TEP as Chair from 2019 and wish her every success. I would like to thank all the staff at STEP for their hard work, dedication and continued support.
Finally, may I wish you all a merry holiday season and a peaceful New Year.
Rita Bhargava TEP, Chair, STEP England & Wales Regional Committee