Last night ministers were accused of sneaking through a stealthy ‘death tax’, which could result in grieving families having to pay a £6,000 bill to access a lost loved one’s estate, the Daily Mail has reported.
In an alleged abuse of power, an increase in probate charges sailed through parliament as it was categorised as a ‘fee’ rather than a tax. Due it being labelled as a fee, ministers were able to avoid parliamentary scrutiny for the controversial increase, which will see almost 300,000 families per year facing larger probate bills from April.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: “This is a clear abuse of executive power: bringing in a tax hike without proper parliamentary scrutiny.”
Families currently pay a flat fee of £215 for probate, the charge for securing legal control over a deceased person’s estate, or £155 for those families that use a solicitor.
However, under the new system, the charge will increase according to the value of the estate, and it is estimated that approximately 280,000 families a year will have to pay more, with 56,000 facing bills of between £2,500 and £6,000.
Families inheriting an estate with a value of between £500,000 and £1m will be required to pay a probate fee of £2,500, while those taking control of an estate worth more than £2m will pay £6,000. Despite the increase, the value of those estates that are exempt from the fee will increase in April from £5,000 to £50,000.
It is expected that the Ministry of Justice will gain an extra £185m a year from the charges by 2022/23.
As the change was only described as a ‘fee’, the probate increase only required a change to a statutory instrument, which was yesterday approved by the delegated legislation committee. Typically, a tax increase would have to be introduced in a Parliamentary Bill, which would have to go through a committee stage, before being debated and then voted on.
Cable added: “the fees themselves have to be paid up front, so the vastly increased sums will now see bereaved relatives having to take out loans just to access what has been left to them.
“This clearly isn’t defensible, and it would appear ministers are doing all that is possible to avoid defending it in the full glare of the House of Commons chamber.”
Furthermore, the Law Society is campaigning against the amending, and has called on MPs to oppose it.
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