One of the harshest realities of the pandemic is that given the number of deaths that have occurred, there has inevitably been a huge increase in the number of applications for probate in the recent months.
In the height of lockdown I was having to tell clients that it was unlikely we would be in receipt of a Grant of Probate for at least 3 - 4 months and in reality that was possibly optimistic. I have one case that was submitted in June and for which I finally received the Grant of Probate at the beginning of November only to find that the name of the deceased was incorrect!
At the start of this year we were already battling with the concept of a new centralised Probate Registry. Add to that a global pandemic and you might think that now wouldn't be the best time to move forward with yet another radical change in the form of a digital probate system where applications are submitted online.
I find it interesting that the current message being received from both HMRC and the Probate Registry is that backlogs have been cleared and probate is now being issued in a much more timely fashion. Perhaps it is my definition of a 'timely fashion' that needs to change?
At this stage I can only echo what John Stevenson MP has said.
Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate, Conservative John Stevenson MP said the quality of the probate service has ‘deteriorated’ since district registries were centralised and paper applications were replaced by a digital system. Stevenson reported waiting up to 17 weeks for grants of probate and said solicitors can spend 50 minutes on the telephone waiting for a response to a probate enquiry. He added that ‘errors are creeping in in a way that would have been unimaginable previously’ and that the government had ignored advice from practitioners to delay the introduction of mandatory online applications.