The latest in the saga of increasing Probate fees – perhaps the increase is illegal!
A year or so ago I wrote this Link here warning of the proposal for the worst case increase of probate fees from £430 to £40,000. Yes. Really
And then after the Government “Consultation” I wrote link here of the Government response which was in effect, “We will ignore the result of the consultation”
Now, this week the joint committee on Statutory Instruments, a cross party/cross house committee has raised the suggestion that the proposal may be illegal.
A basic principle of the British Constitution is that the Government cannot raise tax unless the measure is put before Parliament and approved. Exactly as with Brexit recently – and as the Courts confirmed – the matter has to go to Debate.
But, in the case of the Probate fees, the Government is presenting the increases as merely an upward adjustment to Court fees, and that therefore it has the right to proceed under Powers deriving from the somewhat obscure Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, 2014, section 180 – Headed, “Court and Tribunal Fees”.
Somewhat ignoring the fact that that Statute is clearly intended to deal with the Court fees for contested cases.
Yes sometimes the grant of Probate can be contested. [Fred died leaving his money to say, the RSPCA and appointing it his executor, and Fred’s wife is objecting to the Grant of Probate as part of her objection to the implementation of the terms of the Will generally]
I have not been able to find the number of annually contested applications for Probate, the statistics must be out there. My guess is, it is a relatively trivial number compared to the over 250000 grants of Probate applied for every year.
In any case, the new fees are not relating to the contested cases only. They will relate to every application.
What the Government is doing, is calling a tax increase, a “fees increase”. And then claiming that this obscure Stature gives it the right to implement it.
Basically, attempting to use the letter of the law to justify something it was never intended to justify.
We do not know whether the views of the joint committee on Statutory Instruments will be implemented. Perhaps not, perhaps the Government will succeed in pressing on regardless.
But, does its behaviour remind you of the Government’s own wording in its pamphlet highlighted in my blog earlier, link here?
That, a citizen should not seek to avoid paying tax by “Using the Law of the Country to get a Tax advantage that Parliament never intended”.
And whilst this Government is a more or less different gang from last year, it has learnt nothing from Mr Cameron’s own egg-on-face scenario, – when he was revealed to have had his own offshore investments. This, of course, after he had taken the extraordinary decision to take time out of a G20 summit to voice his disgust at that kind of scheme and specifically describing as “Morally wrong” the action of Jimmy Carr in following the advice of his accountant and doing nothing illegal whatsoever.
Jimmy Carr, as comedians will, had the last laugh. He tweeted, when Mr Cameron was revealed to have his own tax-avoiding investments abroad, that “it would be morally wrong of me to comment on another individual’s tax affairs”.
Really, it is dangerous to seek to occupy the moral high ground, because when you behave exactly as those you seek to paint as villains, some people might take the view that your sense of morality leaves something to be desired.
Indeed some people may take that view, and express disapproval in rather stronger terms. Trust is hard to win, easy to lose in a moment. Ask United Airlines.
Some music – Hypocrites
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