The ILM represented at Parliament hearing into probate delays

March 13, 2024

In a significant move, the ILM was represented in Parliament on Tuesday (12 March) as charity sector representatives gave evidence about the impact of probate delays on charities.

Both ILM board member Dave Hawes, who is also Director of Finance & Infrastructure at Devon Air Ambulance Trust; and Alex McDowell, Vice Chair of Remember A Charity and Director of Fundraising at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award; spoke at an official hearing session that forms part of the Justice Committee’s Probate Inquiry.

They were joined by Angela Morrison, Chief Operating Officer, Cancer Research UK.

Submitting evidence to the cross-party committee of MPs, the three panellists highlighted how delays at probate affect both beneficiaries and charities, particularly those that are reliant on funding from gifts in wills.

ILM CEO Matthew Lagden, who attended the session as a spectator, said afterwards: “Having the opportunity to put across our points, and the views of our members, was extremely satisfying and a great example of the sector working together, holding a common line and doggedly pursuing our interests.

The committee secretary spoke to us afterwards in very favourable terms, saying the MPs were very impressed, and that we had represented ourselves well and engaged very positively with the process.

“Indeed, since then, HMCTS has already been in touch to discuss actioning some of the requests we made and to thank us for the measured tone we took.”

Speaking about taking part in the debate, Dave Hawes, said: “This was a welcome opportunity to explain why and how probate delays have impacted charities of all sizes right across the sector, which I’ve seen both as a director of Devon Air Ambulance and as a Board member of ILM.

“The probate service is crucial to ensure that people’s last wishes are followed and it’s important that HMCTS is able to support this in a timely manner both now and into the future.”

Also speaking afterwards, Alex McDowell commented: “We’ve seen probate output levels improve significantly in recent months and that’s the chink of light that charities have been waiting for to enable them to shore up their support for beneficiaries at a time when demand for charitable services has never been higher.

“And now, for charities to be able to continue delivering such critical services, it is vital that the Probate Registry is equipped and resourced to manage the increasing number of cases at probate, without compromising on quality.”

Remember A Charity and the ILM have been working closely with HMCTS as part of the Probate Service Users Working Group, ensuring the impact of delays on charities is represented in key discussions and factored into ongoing service developments.

Tuesday’s hearing, which was scheduled for 30 minutes but ran for just over an hour, was the latest step in the Probate Inquiry launched by the Justice Committee in November 2023.

Following on from representations made in January to the Select Committee (for ILM both as a joint response with Remember A Charity and a separate submission highlighting the concerns of ILM members), the session gave MPs the opportunity to ask questions about the 50+ pages of evidence that had been submitted.

Matthew said: “All three panel members did extremely well, they were composed and on message, responding flexibly and honestly to what were sometimes some very tricky questions.

“The MPs were by and large very informed – they had read the material, were engaged with the issues, sympathetic to charities but not afraid to ask occasionally probing/difficult questions, and were clearly trying to work towards a solution. It was measured, composed and deeply impressive as a process.”

During the session, the sector representatives welcomed recent improvements in probate output and opportunities to collaborate with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), suggesting improvements for long term change, which include:

  • Appropriate resourcing for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), enabling probate teams to upscale their services and meet rising demand as death rates climb, reflecting too on the growth of charitable gifts in Wills.
  • More publicly available data on the scale and scope of the backlog and ongoing workflow, including ‘stopped’ estates, to ensure that charities have the information needed to inform their forecasting.
  • Continued collaboration with the charity sector to ensure that any changes or proposed improvements reflect charities’ needs and have no unintended consequences on charities.

Matthew concluded: “This occasion was a culmination of four years of patient engagement with HMCTS and we are pleased that our views are being heard at the highest level.

The responses and preparation for the meeting took an awful lot of time and work from people at both ILM and RAC, as well as member charities, and we are very grateful to everyone for their contributions.”

The Inquiry is taking evidence on capacity, resources and delays across the probate service and the impact of digitisation and centralisation, including the effectiveness of the online probate portal. It is looking at people’s experiences of applying for probate including how the administration of probate could be improved. 


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