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 

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.

The new gatekeepers of the financial system

Houses of Parliament, London

Update: STEP News 1 Nov: UK revises anti-organised crime strategy to target professional ‘facilitators’

Original blog:

Ben Wallace MP, UK Minister of State for Security at the Home Office, has called for more to be done to make lawyers and accountants who facilitate money laundering recognise their responsibilities.

As part of a House of Commons Treasury Committee evidence session (pdf) on Economic Crime, Simon Clarke MP asked whether lawyers and accountants were failing to appreciate the seriousness of money laundering. He noted that this may be because they haven’t been faced with the same level of fines as the banking sector has been.

In response Wallace said: ‘I absolutely agree with the point that the facilitators have not had the same focus on them as they should have done. They have a responsibility that they need to live up to and I would like to see them being put under more pressure to comply.’

These words mirror recent moves from the international community towards viewing practitioners such as lawyers and accountants as the new gatekeepers of the financial sector and an integral part of combatting money laundering. Publications such as the OECD’s Model Mandatory Disclosure Rules place a responsibility on advisors to report schemes that may have the effect of circumventing the Common Reporting Standard. The EU’s DAC6 (pdf) put similar requirements on intermediaries who design or promote tax-planning schemes.

Underlining the discussion in the same Treasury Committee session, Robert Buckland MP, the Solicitor General, called the creation of a new corporate criminal offence of failing to prevent economic crime a ‘very important priority’ for him.

Perhaps summing up the changing approach towards lawyers and accountants, Wallace said the following after he was asked if there should be more of a focus on the accountancy world when it came to enabling economic crime: ‘In this half of the year, my message to the facilitators is this: we have had a lot of focus on banks; my investigators are going to be focusing on you.’

STEP will continue to monitor relevant developments both in jurisdictions and with international bodies, as well as providing updates where appropriate.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

 

How will the UK budget affect STEP members?

Budget red boxUK Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered the final budget before the UK leaves the EU yesterday. Here are some of the key measures that may affect STEP members.

Individuals

Income tax: the personal allowance threshold, the rate at which people start paying income tax at 20 per cent, is to rise from GBP11,850 to GBP12,500 in April 2019. The higher rate income tax threshold, the point at which people start paying tax at 40 per cent, is to rise from GBP46,350 to GBP50,000 in April. Subsequently, the two rates will rise in line with inflation.

Entrepreneurs’ relief: changes to the qualifying terms. Disposals of shares only qualify where the shares entitle the holder to 5 per cent of any dividends and 5 per cent of assets on a winding up. In addition, for disposals after 6 April 2019, assets will need to have been held for a period of two years (rather than one year).

Principal private residence relief: the period of deemed occupation at the end of a period of ownership is being reduced from 18 months to nine months with a withdrawal of the rental relief element in all circumstances, except where the owner co-occupies with the tenant. The principle that the relief should apply to all properties was reaffirmed.

Capital gains tax: lettings relief is to be limited to where the owner is in shared accommodation.

Charities

Small trading tax exemptions for charities: raising the exemption upper limits from GBP5,000 and GBP50,000 to GBP8,000 and GBP80,000 respectively.

Gift aid donor benefits: simplifying the limits on benefits that charities can give to their donors to acknowledge donations.

Gift aid small donations scheme: increasing the small donations limit using cash or contactless payments from GBP20 to GBP30.

Retail gift aid scheme: relaxing the requirement to issue annual letters.  Charities will now only need to issue letters once every three years, rather than every year where a donor’s total donations in a given year are less than GBP20.

Trusts

The budget Red Book referred to the government’s trusts consultation, but the consultation date has not yet been confirmed:

3.15 Trusts consultation – As announced at Autumn Budget 2017, the government will publish a consultation on the taxation of trusts, to make the taxation of trusts simpler,
fairer and more transparent.

STEP has a trust consultation working group in place to review the consultation document as soon as it is published.

Companies

Individuals providing services via personal companies: the provisions that have applied in the public sector since April 2017 are being extended to private companies from April 2020. These provisions impose a duty on the ’engaging’ company to operate PAYE on amounts paid to the service company. These provisions will only be applied to large and medium-sized businesses.

STEP will continue to monitor the progress of the budget proposals and keep members updated.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel