VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Scrap this sneaky new death tax

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Final insult: Under plans slipped out on Monday, the cost of getting probate — the legal authority to manage someone


Burdening bereaved families with a sneaky new death tax is about as low as it gets. Yet that’s exactly what the Ministry of Justice has done.

Under plans slipped out on Monday, the cost of getting probate — the legal authority to manage someone’s estate — will soar from £215 to as much as £6,000 next April.

Ministers are adamant the new fees are not a tax. But they certainly look very much like one.

Final insult: Under plans slipped out on Monday, the cost of getting probate — the legal authority to manage someone's estate — will soar from £215 to as much as £6,000 next April

Final insult: Under plans slipped out on Monday, the cost of getting probate — the legal authority to manage someone’s estate — will soar from £215 to as much as £6,000 next April

First, the amount you pay depends on the size of the estate, with the wealthiest forking out the most.

Officials insist the new sliding scale of fees is supposed to cover the cost of the service. Yet every expert we’ve spoken to has said these charges bear no relation to the actual cost of probate.

In addition, the MoJ freely admits that the money raised by the new fees will help plug a funding gap for the rest of the legal system. 

So if it walks like a tax and talks like a tax . . . it seems likely that it is, indeed, a tax.

And don’t just take my word for it. When the Government first attempted to hike probate fees last year, experts on a cross-party parliamentary committee warned that the new charging structure may be unlawful for this very reason.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments said the fee should represent the cost of providing the service, rather than be a way to raise money, because — by law — Parliament has to vote before any new tax can be introduced.

The MoJ has given itself a big pat on the back for ‘listening carefully’ to feedback and hiking fees to only £6,000 instead of the £20,000 ceiling it had originally intended. 

But it seems to have missed the basic point that it’s just wrong to burden grieving families with another form of taxation when they already face an inheritance tax bill.

Ministers say families can claim back this money from the estate, but they have to pay the fee before they can access the estate and, for many, the cash will be tied up in property. So that means raiding savings, or perhaps even taking out a loan, to cover the cost.

Little wonder, then, that this cynical announcement was sneaked out at 5.30pm on a Monday, instead of being announced properly in the Budget last week.

Scam alert!

Our letters editor, Tony Hazell, recently received a worrying scam call from what looked like a local number.

An automated voice said: ‘This is your internet provider. Your service has been compromised and will be cut off within 24 hours. Press one to speak to a technician.’

If you do as directed, you’ll likely be put through to someone who will persuade you to hand over control of your computer.

They will then almost certainly riddle it with viruses, steal personal information and demand a hefty payment to fix it (which they won’t then do).

Since Tony raised the alarm with me, two more readers, Norman and Jim, have written in about exactly the same scam.

If you get a similar call, please, please hang up.

Loyalty rip-off

While we’re on the topic of scams, let’s discuss one of the biggest ongoing cons of our time: the insurance loyalty rip-off.

Last week, the City watchdog announced an investigation into how insurers fleece millions of customers who fail to shop around.

About time, too. Insurers have been exploiting their most loyal customers as cash cows, by putting up premiums each year, for far too long.

The key now is for the regulator to introduce tough new rules insurers cannot wriggle out of.

It has threatened a price cap that restricts the difference between what firms can charge new and existing customers — so let’s get on with it.

Critics claim such a move could push up prices for the savviest shoppers who know to switch provider each year.

But they will still find ways to save — and the vulnerable might be finally protected.

v.bischoff@dailymail.co.uk

 



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