Improving customer experience in the probate industry
I want to ask you a simple question, is there more that the probate sector could be doing to improve the client experience throughout the estate administration process? I believe some improvements could be implemented to speed up the estate administration process to allow probate practitioners to deliver a smoother journey for customers at what is a difficult time.
The current landscape
The probate sector is a very fragmented marketplace with a multitude of service providers, which makes gaining traction to amend processes for the good of all stakeholders very difficult. I strongly believe that processes, both our own and those where we are reliant upon others, could be more efficient to deliver even better service to clients. Delay and communication, which I believe are intrinsically linked, are currently the industry’s biggest challenges. These are both also inherently connected to the length of time it takes to administer an estate. We know that from Grant of Probate service delivery issues with HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), delays at HMRC, communication challenges at National Savings and Investments to inefficient processes with many financial institutions, there are a number of barriers that are preventing the whole market from improving the overall client experience and reducing the time it takes to administer an estate. If industry professionals worked together and challenged the problematic areas, I believe we could ultimately speed up the estate administration and save all parties from unnecessary stress and lengthy processes.
Delays in issuing Grants
If you work in the probate space, then you will be familiar with the ongoing and intermittent delays we have experienced in the Grant of Probate being issued by HMCTS. The delays have been a consequence of a number of different issues including the launch of a new IT case management system in 2019, COVID-19 challenges, and problems with the online probate application system.
In April 2021, the Ministry of Justice released figures about the average delivery times during the period of April 2020 to April 2021. The figures revealed that overall, from the submission of the application to the Grant being issued, the process took an average of 8.29 weeks on paper cases and 6.51 weeks on digital cases. Although, the figures also shared the varying time differences if an application was stopped or not stopped. If an application went smoothly and was not stopped, it took an average of 4.83 weeks for paper cases and 3.58 weeks for digital cases. However, the delivery times increased substantially if the application was stopped with the average increasing to 14.96 weeks on paper cases and 11.53 weeks for digital cases.
Even though I suspect the delays were unavoidable, HMCTS could have done more to manage expectations and be open and transparent about the issues they faced. Many professionals have reported much longer waiting times than those reported by HMCTS. We have certainly experienced longer waiting times than these and our experience with online applications has been, until very recently, that they take longer than paper applications. We have shared our concerns with HMCTS through fear of the move to MyHMCTS making it mandatory for Trust Corporations to apply online. Many legal professionals continue to call for improvements to be made to the online probate application system generally to make it easier for professionals to handle applications online. We have seen the recent announcement of some improvements but are yet to see the benefits that these changes will bring.
Inefficient processes at financial institutions
Some financial institutions, including HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), banks, building societies and pension providers, still have archaic processes that slow down the release of funds during the estate administration process. There is certainly work to be done to improve these processes and some institutions are already making headway in enhancing the customer journey. The experience during lifetime has improved dramatically over the last few years and I hope that we see this transfer to bereavement processes.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on some of these institutions as some did not have the infrastructure in place to get their workforce set up to be able to efficiently work from home very quickly. We have seen call waiting times increase and found it difficult to get through to the appropriate teams.
The next steps
At Kings Court Trust, we continue to try to work with probate businesses and others working in the probate service delivery space, such as financial institutions and government services, to push the barriers that are preventing the whole market from delivering an even better service to clients. This includes pushing HMCTS around Grant of Probate service delivery issues, as well as challenging HMRC, National Savings, banks and other financial institutions to improve their processes.
We strive and campaign for change to make it easier to progress our clients towards receiving their inheritance, as these institutions can often be difficult and slow. We welcome other probate practitioners to join forces with us to campaign for change and are prepared to work with those in the probate service delivery space to help implement improvements.
Simon Hancox is CEO of Kings Court Trust