Complaints to HMCTS probate service

I do believe it is important to complain in all cases where the service we have received from the probate registry is bad, but would be interested to know whether anyone has had a satisfactory response to such a complaint? On one of my matters where the failings and delays were similar to those described by other forum members I raised a formal complaint on 6 November 2020. I last heard from them on 16 November saying they needed to investigate fully before responding to my complaint. I have heard nothing since.

Can we complain about their complaints handling process?

Diana Smart
Gordons LLP

Diana,

I have no idea how you can escalate a complaint, I have one ongoing at the moment as they changed the spelling of my Executors name and a month later still haven’t corrected and reissued the Grant. The complaint response says that they can take as long as they need to investigate and reply. I would be happy to complain further about their lack of a decent complaints handling process if anyone can suggest a way forward.

Lyndzey Smissen
Paytons Solicitors LLP

I had this particular issue. They will only correct the grant if the incorrect one is returned to them. Generally the corrected grant is done within a few days – have had to return a few….

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Part 54 CPR with damages and costs, crowdfunded? Miller (No 3)?

Jack Harper

Lee,

The Grant has been returned to them but it is stuck in their incoming post. We didn’t send it by recorded as that means a trip to the post office which is something we try to avoid for the teams safety at the moment so I can’t prove when it was received.

I guess I will have to risk queuing in the post office if it happens again.

Many thanks,

Lyndzey

Last month I made three complaints online for outstanding applications dating back to June, July and August. They were all paper applications. I received a response from a complaints handler in all three estates the following day.

I received the Grant within a few days after the complaint in one estate. I received the Grant in the second estate a few days later but there were several errors, including spelling the deceased’s surname incorrectly and omitting one of the Executors. More importantly, the Grant stated that the deceased died domiciled in Scotland when it was clear from the papers that he had in fact died domiciled in the Republic of Ireland, which had been accepted by HMRC. (He had lived in Scotland for a short while before he died.) I had to return that Grant for amendment and then received an email from a Probate Officer in a DPR asking me why the deceased had an address in Scotland if he was not domiciled there…….

In the third estate the application cannot be traced, so I have had to re-send the papers with proof that the Probate fee has been paid.

My experience of the complaints handling process isn’t too bad, apart from the Grant arriving with so many errors after waiting for it for six months. I agree with Diana that it is important to complain in all cases where there has been a poor service.

Cliona O’Tuama

Solicitor

I suggest raising the issue with the professional bodies and/or your MP.

It might be worth sending a letter/email per instance to underline the number of estates which are suffering. This would also enable individual hardships caused by the delays to be highlighted.

I recall an e-petition (?) was used to raise the matter in Parliament and perhaps this could be another route to bring the deficiencies if the current arrangement to the relevant powers.

Paul Saunders FCIB TEP

Independent Trust Consultant

Providing support and advice to fellow professionals

On re-reading my post timed @ 11:56 today, I note I seem to have edited out some words that would help make sense of my last point.

The post should have read:

I suggest raising the issue with the professional bodies and/or your MP.

It might be worth sending a letter/email per instance to underline the number of estates which are suffering. This would also enable individual hardships caused by the delays to be highlighted.

I recall an e-petition (?) was used to raise the matter of the change to the probate court fees in Parliament and perhaps this could be another route to bring concerns over the deficiencies in the current arrangement for grant applications to the relevant powers.

Paul Saunders FCIB TEP

Independent Trust Consultant

Providing support and advice to fellow professionals

In January 2020 HMRC sent me a demand for payment of IHT due from client trustees regarding a chargeable event in November 2013. I had left payment to them once the correspondence with HMRC ended in March 2014. As I had now retired I dare not “advise” the clients without risk of committing a criminal offence so I took up the cudgels on my own behalf and initially avoided contacting the trustees. I invited HMRC to consult the 201st section of the Act and explain why the demand was so stale but more importantly why it was addressed to me as an adviser.

There followed multiple tedious efforts to sort it all out including in the end delicate contact with the clients. The normal first reaction of clients is to blame their adviser but they had “overlooked” the tax bill (Yeah, really) and had received no demand in 6 years. My letter of December 2020 (a paint stripper), logging in detail my dozen attempts and naming names, resulted in HMRC waiving all legally due interest with grovelling personal apologies to me. I shall frame this and display it with my other rarity (a polite letter from a litigation partner in my old firm).

Sorry to bore you with facts as a preamble to my comments on the subject matter. I think my 50 years of judiciously twisting HMRC’s tail may help. You must know what buttons to press. You must only credibly threaten what you can deliver. You must choose your ground carefully and sparingly and never write anything you would not want a judge to read out in open court. You must quietly impart the news that you are specifically instructed not to just go away. In tax HMRC use client confidentiality as a weapon and exploit the fact that most taxpayers do not want to actually litigate (costs, uncertain outcome, delay and publicity) and are deeply apprehensive about upsetting HMRC, who are spiteful bad losers (and you and your livelihood are also potential targets). They can be a very formidable playground bully.

With this probate nonsense, solicitors’ firms can surely combine to take on HMCTS. Confidentiality is not in point as the very objective is publication. The client just wants to know that if you bloody the nose of the bully (perhaps here just the hapless incompetent) there will be no cost to or personal comeback on them. Could any further delay make things worse? Can they put all of you on the blacklist (existence not admitted but possible, whereas with HMRC not in doubt). Do not rely on or wait for the help of the pusillanimous organisations that watch over you with such tender care. They are in HMG’s grip and pocket.

A large group of harassed and unfairly embarrassed solicitors’ firms could write a letter before action (having carefully researched precisely what kind). You do not initially need to hint, even without prejudice, at a total denial of service or the horse’s head in the bed. You will not get help from the Big Battalions because they have cleansed themselves of nasty private client work but there is strength in numbers for numerous smaller firms with a common cause that affects real people with real votes. And you will surely attract the attention of the Meejah, who love an excremental Force 10 (“Storm Tristram”) especially if HMG is right in its path, so have the PR strategy in the locker up front.

I truly sympathise greatly with the predicament of those who post here but if you were my clients I would be asking, as kindly as may be: do you really want a result or just to sound off communally and hope someone else will make something happen, if at all?

Jack Harper

I saw in the Law Society Gazette online some weeks ago that a solicitor MP, John Stevenson, had raised the issue of the Probate delays in Parliament. I don’t know what was the outcome of this.

Yesterday I received three Grants of Probates in estates where I had submitted the applications between Christmas and the New Year but I am still waiting for Grants in estates where the applications were submitted in November and December, so the Probate Service are not dealing with applications in the order in which they are received.

Cliona O’Tuama

Solicitor

I wonder what a judge would think of these appalling delays. Judges continue to set timetable deadlines in litigation which are eye-watering, even despite the pandemic, and lawyers and police officers just have to dance to their tune. What is a judge going to think of a bunch of 9-5-ers and form/software template fillers who can’t get a Grant out, and right, within 6 months? Their Counsel may hear those chilling words " Is that your best point Mr/Ms X? Do move on" or worse " We do not need to hear further from you".

Jack harper

I have recently been receiving grants that were applied for back in June and I raised complaints on all of the outstanding applications. Honestly - it made very little difference. They acknowledge the complaint and then nothing is done about it. I have also had to raise complaints about the complaint not being dealt with (which also got us absolutely nowhere) but when you have clients telling you that “you have to do something about this” and simply not accepting that I cannot do anything (even after they have called the Probate Registry helpline and been told the same thing) you will try anything.

I also have still not received the correct amount of Grants on several matters despite having called them several times.

Just to add to the litany of problems which seem to be occurring on a regular basis, I have today received an email from HM CTS saying that page one of the Will was not with the documents we sent and asking if we had omitted it. I replied saying that the original Will was fastened with a staple through a corner piece with our name on it and I could only think that their postal people had separated the pages and mislaid page 1! I have offered to send a photocopy of page 1 but whether that will be accepted or whether some legal statement/ statement of truth will have to be completed remains to be seen but obviously it is going to delay the issue of the grant of probate especially if the case goes to the back of the queue. When will it all end I ask but perhaps that’s a bit like asking when will Covid disappear!!

Patrick Moroney
BWL solicitors

In one particular case the Probate Office blamed the delay on HMRC failing to process the IHT400 and associated forms. HMRC told us they had received the forms, but lost some of them. This happened twice when forms were re-sent. 8 months after submission no further progress so our client contacted her MP and 5 days later we had phone calls from both HMRC and the Probate Office apologising. Probate was granted just 3 days later. Very grateful to the MP, who shall remain nameless…

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