Charity panel highlights impact of probate delays in Parliament

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This month, on 12th March 2024, charity sector representatives delivered evidence in Parliament to demonstrate the significant impact of probate delays on charities in an official hearing session that forms part of the Justice Committee’s Probate Inquiry.

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

  • Alex McDowell, Vice Chair of Remember A Charity and Director of Fundraising at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award
  • Angela Morrison, Chief Operating Officer, Cancer Research UK
  • Dave Hawes, Director of Finance & Infrastructure, Devon Air Ambulance Trust and a Board member of the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM).

During the session, 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.

While the focus of the hearing was on charities and how their services, forecasting ability and wider finances are impacted by the probate system, the panellists reflected too on the profound impact on grieving families, many of which turn to charities for support.

Speaking after the event, Alex McDowell, Vice Chair of Remember A Charity and Director of Fundraising at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, said:

“Charities are increasingly reliant on income from gifts in Wills, and any delays or problems at probate can have a significant impact not only on funding for vital charitable services and beneficiaries, but on charities’ ability to forecast their income and budget for the future.

 “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.”

 Dave Hawes, Director of Finance & Infrastructure, Devon Air Ambulance Trust and a Board member of the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM), 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.”

Remember A Charity and the Institute of Legacy Management 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.

McDowell added: “HMCTS has already committed to several steps to improve the probate ecosystem for charities, which includes provision of more information on cases in the system and an indicator to identify charitable estates in the system. We are grateful to the team for their continued support and recognition of just how crucial the probate service is for charities.”

Gifts in Wills currently raise around £4 billion* for good causes annually, funding vital charitable services for charities and community-based organisations across the country. 

Background to the Probate Inquiry

The Committee launched the Probate Inquiry in November 2023 amid reports the Probate Registry has been experiencing significant delays. 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. 



Following the hearing, Remember A Charity and ILM met with HMCTS. During the meeting, HMCTS confirmed that they will shortly be providing us with more detailed projections for the number of grant applications they expect to receive and the number of grants they expect to issue in the coming months. This should further improve charities’ ability to forecast their notifications and future legacy income.

We expect the first batch of shareable forecasting data to be with us shortly, and are grateful to HMCTS for continuing to collaborate with us to drive positive change - recognising just how crucial legacy income is for charities.

*Legacy Foresight, 2023