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Mark Walley presents evidence at House of Commons Justice Committee’s Probate Service Performance Inquiry

Mark Walley presents evidence at House of Commons Justice Committee’s Probate Service Performance Inquiry


The CEO of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), recently provided crucial testimony, examining the performance of the probate service

Mark Walley's insights shed light on the persistent challenges facing the service and proposed solutions to alleviate the strain on grieving families and legal professionals.

The committee convened to address the deficiencies highlighted in the Justice Committee's prior written inquiry into the probate service's subpar performance in November 2023. Joining Mark Walley were esteemed witnesses Ian Bond, Chair of the Law Society's Probate Professional User Group; Sophie Wales, Regulatory Policy Director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW); and Stephen Ward, Director of Strategy and External Relations of the Council of Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).

Reflecting on the session, Mark Walley outlined several key observations and recommendations:

Improvements and Persisting Challenges: While acknowledging incremental enhancements, Mark Walley emphasised the enduring shortcomings in the probate registry service. Despite modest improvements, application processing times remain protracted, averaging over 13 weeks and extending up to nine months in extreme cases. Moreover, communication channels, including telephone calls and emails, continue to suffer from delays, exacerbating the distress and financial burdens on affected families.

Staffing Needs and Expertise: A consensus emerged among the panel regarding the critical need for additional experienced staff to address the service's operational deficiencies and backlog. Mark Walley underscored the importance of recruiting personnel with relevant practical experience, emphasising quality over quantity in augmenting staffing levels.

Role of Registrars and Collaboration: The panel highlighted the invaluable role of registrars in facilitating efficient probate processing. Recognising the ambiguity in procedural rules, they advocated for increased collaboration between applicants and registrars to expedite applications and streamline the service.

Proposals for Improvement: To enhance efficiency and mitigate delays, Mark Walley proposed the establishment of a 'Complex Estates Team' within the probate service, dedicated to handling intricate probate applications. Additionally, he advocated for specialists to be seconded into the service to provide training and expedite the resolution of complex cases.

Setting Minimum Service Standards: Mark Walley recommended the implementation of minimum service standards, including realistic process times, prompt query responses, and improved applicant communication channels. He also suggested exploring fee reimbursement mechanisms for delays attributable to the probate service.

Future Expectations and Regulation: With the UK's expected rise in death rates, Mark Walley emphasised the urgency of replenishing probate service staff to meet growing demand. Furthermore, he advocated for enhanced regulation to safeguard against unqualified and incompetent practitioners in the sector, ensuring the protection of clients and maintaining professional standards.

In conclusion, Mark Walley reaffirmed STEP's commitment to collaborating with the probate service to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness, thereby alleviating the burdens faced by families during challenging times.