HMCTS – aiming to “exceed expectations”

March 28, 2024

The way the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM) and Remember A Charity work “constructively” with HMCTS was praised at a special webinar update on the probate service for charities, held on Monday.

More than 70 participants logged on for the event, led by Adam Lennon, Deputy Director and Service Owner at HMCTS, together with Stephen Burgess, Deputy Service Manager (Probate) and Melissa Davies, Head of Operations Probate Service.

The webinar provided an overview of the probate service over the past year, as well as taking a look at future performance and the issue of providing data to help charities forecast income.

Opening proceedings, Adam thanked all attendees and highlighted online links where they can find detailed probate data, whilst also explaining that (as ILM members will know) additional unpublished data is shared with charity representatives via the Probate Service User Group.

“We have monthly meetings with ILM and Remember A Charity and on an ‘official sensitive’ basis, we share the very latest receipts, outputs and forecasts on how we think we are going to perform over the next six to 12 months,” he said.

“We have a really constructive space, where we are nicely challenged, and can hopefully give a heads up on what’s coming down the track.”

One attendee said that, as the ILM and Remember A Charity are restricted on what they can do with the data, it doesn’t help with income forecasting, to which Adam explained that information can’t be distributed more widely until it is officially published.

However, having met with both organisations last Friday, he said HMCTS is happy for forecasting information to be shared and this happened for the first-time last Friday (22 March) at the ILM’s Monthly Probate Update.

Speaking more widely about the fact HMCTS has now added further granular information onto the Probate Service page, Adam continued: “You can see a lot more detail about cases, what is outstanding, what is stopped and the reasons why, and that is almost as a direct result of the engagement we have with the ILM and Remember A Charity.

“It’s something we’ve been able to respond to and is a real positive from the constructive ongoing conversations we have with those two organisations.”

A strong message throughout the webinar was that, after a major investment in new staff and training, HMCTS is seeing “significant improvements” in grant outputs, as evidenced by a 38% increase in grant production in January 2024 v January 2023.

Adam hinted that the good news is set to continue, as early indications* show February has been “a strong month” and March will be at a similar level.

Making the point that 2023 saw the largest volume of applications received in over 16 years, and the largest volume of grants issued, Adam said since Q4 2023, HMCTS had started to see the fruit of all the work done in earlier in the year in terms of additional staff recruitment, upskilling and intensive training.

There was more good news from Melissa, who said: “In terms of operational caseload, disposals are now consistently outstripping receipts, which is really great news and because of that we are starting to see the caseload drop steadily, which is absolutely where we want to be.”

Further training has taken place to cover topics such as Attorney Applications and Letters of Administration with a will; while a team of subject matter experts has been put in place to examine more complex cases.

To further help, this week sees the launch of ‘virtual surgeries’ where users can book an appointment to speak to a more experienced examiner, typically for cases where support is needed from both sides in order to be able to progress.

With the first 90 appointments booked very quickly, Melissa says details on future surgeries will be announced as soon as the success of the first ones has been assessed.

Quizzed by Adam on how probate delays have impacted on charities and some of the actions taken to help, Melissa referenced a recent Lunch and Learn webinar for staff, which was organised by Remember A Charity and included its representatives, as well as a team from the NSPCC.

“I know our staff found it really valuable to hear about how the work we do, helps you as charities and the impact it has,” she said. “It spurred some ideas as to what we can do to provide more support and we’re really keen to talk to other charities as well, so please let us know.”

This week the team is having a Lunch and Learn session with Smee & Ford, a session which Melissa thinks will be “really valuable” in finding out what its team does and how HMCTS staff can provide support.

Stephen Burgess emphasised that the team’s vision is to make it quick and easy for all to use the probate service, including those working in the charitable sector.

He also underlined the importance of working with Smee & Ford , saying: “We have a really good relationship with them and we meet weekly to discuss issues. It is about making sure that the process with the operational side works well, that they get those notifications on charitable bequests as quickly as possible and can communicate that to yourselves.”

A new process, introduced in January this year, which sees probate applications only submitted once IHT processes have been followed, is also helping to increase turnaround times.

Stephen said: “Hopefully this year we will see an extra 14,000 cases coming through the system as ‘right first time’ cases and that overall grant output, which means hopefully more charitable bequests, will be coming through in a more timely manner.”

Ending on a positive note, Adam said the aim is to get overall average waiting times (including stopped cases) down to around eight weeks, with non-stopped cases being processed in around three to four weeks by the end of the summer.

And he concluded: “Thank you for listening and for bearing with us in the last few years. I really feel like we are heading in the right direction and hopefully each month we will continue to exceed expectations in terms of output.”

Speaking afterwards, ILM CEO, Matthew Lagden, paid tribute to the hard work of the team: “We are genuinely delighted with the progress made over the last six months and, in particular, the greater openness that HMCTS has shown in its willingness to share data with ourselves and Remember A Charity. We see this as a great testament to our working relationship.

“It is also very pleasing to see the way HMCTS is reaching out to charities as the more their staff understand about how important legacy income is to charities, the better it is for everyone.

“Anecdotally, our member charities tell us that since the beginning of 2024, the number of new legacies being received has increased dramatically, which is great news, and we hope and believe that if current progress continues, we will be on track for another record year for legacy income overall.”

*Data due to be published next week

You can view the webinar by clicking here.


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