CILEX reports widespread support for reform agenda
Probate delays causing bereaved stress and financial loss, says CILEX
23 January 2024
Severe delays that currently see clients being advised that probate will take at least nine months, will not improve without adequate resources, says CILEX (the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives).
The waiting time for probate almost doubled from April 2022 to April 2023, with CILEX members reporting a negative impact on their bereaved clients, with the extra stress caused compounded by financial problems stemming from the delays.
Responding to a call for evidence by the Justice Select Committee, which has launched a parliamentary inquiry into the issue, CILEX reports its members “do not believe the Probate Service has the necessary resources, capabilities, or expertise to process applications for probate, including complex probate, in a timely manner”.
CILEX, which has over 2,200 members working in private client, reports clients are experiencing additional stress at an already difficult time and their lawyers are also under pressure given the understandable complaints and scrutiny from clients frustrated by the process. CILEX says this “negatively affected the perception of lawyers’ competency and their professional relationship with clients” – even though there is nothing they can do about the delays. Of the 189 CILEX practitioners surveyed, 61% did not believe beneficiaries, executors and the bereaved are protected and supported through the probate process.
Property sales in particular are being affected, with purchases falling through because of the wait to obtain a grant. Many clients are therefore unable to access the funds they need, with a knock-on effect on lawyers’ ability to charge their fees.
Of the CILEX private client lawyers surveyed, 65% believed staff resourcing would improve the situation, highlighting an urgent need for staff with “the technical and legal knowledge to deal with complex applications, stops and enquiries”.
Members also highlighted the problems caused by a lack of updates on applications, with CILEX’s response recommending improved communications, streamlined procedures for straightforward applications and “a facility for users to not only track progress but also make enquiries online”.
The possibility of reopening of district probate registries, “equipped with qualified and knowledgeable staff” was highlighted by some respondents, who suggested this would assist with capacity issues and allow for more direct contact. Other recommendations include pre-screening applications, widening online application services with options for different types of applications (instead of a ‘one size fits all’ approach) as well as more prompts, clearer guidance, and the ability to raise enquiries and receive updates about stopped cases via the online application system.
Only 38% actively supported the premise that technological development and innovation could improve the Probate Service, although they recognised the potential benefits. CILEX’s response states that “without effective implementation, which includes the right level of staff to support an online system, it is not certain that technology improves the process”.
CILEX president Emma Davies commented: “The ongoing delays in the Probate Service are having a considerable impact on CILEX lawyers and their bereaved clients, causing stress and anxiety at an already difficult time in their lives. While the use of technology and streamlining of the process would be potentially useful, it is a lack of adequate staffing that is at the heart of the problem”.
“The Probate Service needs sufficient staff with the capacity, training and experience to handle complex cases, to deal with stopped applications and respond effectively to enquiries. Without adequate resources, it is unlikely we will see any improvements in waiting times for probate any time soon.”
For further information, please contact:
Kerry Jack, Black Letter Communications on 0203 567 1208 / 07525 756 599 or email at [email protected]
Notes to editors:
CILEX (The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) is one of the three main professional bodies covering the legal profession in England and Wales. The approximately 17,000-strong membership is made up of CILEX Lawyers, Chartered Legal Executives, paralegals and other legal professionals.
CILEX pioneered the non-university route into law and recently launched the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ), a new approach to on-the-job training that marries legal knowledge with the practical skills, behaviours and commercial awareness needed by lawyers in the 2020s.
The CPQ is a progressive qualification framework that creates a workforce of specialist legal professionals, providing a career ladder from Paralegal through to Advanced Paralegal and ultimately full qualification as a CILEX Lawyer. CILEX Lawyers can become partners in law firms, coroners, judges or advocates in open court.
CILEX members come from more diverse backgrounds than other parts of the legal profession:
- 77% of its lawyers are women
- 16% are from ethnic minority backgrounds
- 8% are Asian or Asian British
- 5% are Black or Black British
- 3% are from a mixed ethnic background
- 85% attended state schools
- 33% are the first generation in their family to attend university
- Only 3% of its members have a parent who is a lawyer.
CILEX members are regulated through an independent body, CILEx Regulation. It is the only regulator covering paralegals.