Probate Registry

Justice – in the House of Commons at on 9 January 2024.

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Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Chair, Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee, Chair, Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee

What steps he is taking to improve the effectiveness of the probate registry.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The past 12 months have seen the largest volume of probate applications received by the service since 2006, and that follows two years of above-average receipts. In response, we have increased staffing levels by more than 100 people and streamlined processes. We have seen some improvement, in that the level of grants issued has been running at about 8,000 more over the past two months than receipts. The average mean length of time for a grant of probate following receipt of all the documents required is now 12 weeks.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Chair, Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee, Chair, Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Back in November 2020, I led a Westminster Hall debate highlighting the failings of the probate service. The service was once excellent, but that is no longer the case—I could give many examples demonstrating its continuing failures. I appreciate the Minister’s efforts to improve the service, but enough is enough. If the service has not materially improved in the next three months, will the Minister take the appropriate action and remove those who are clearly underperforming, so that the service can return to the level it once was at?

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend and I have had some interesting discussions on this topic over the past few months. Following a recovery plan to address the concerns that he and others have raised, I can reassure him that a new management team is in place and we are now seeing a distinct improvement in recruitment, competency, productivity and call handling, and for the past few months disposals have outstripped receipts. I appreciate that the service is not yet where we would want it to be, but I can reassure him that we are starting to see some impact as a result of the measures we have introduced. I am more than happy to have conversations with him so that we can work together to improve the service further.