Mr Hammond found another way of grabbing money from us in his budget. He decided to impose hefty fees for applying for the grant of probate. His hope was that practically no one would notice. Sadly for him, many MPs did notice.
His aim is to raise £300M a year from the beneficiaries of the estates of deceased people, over and above the inheritance tax which they will, of course, also pay. Fees, ranging between £300 and £20,000, depending on the size of the estate, will be levied for applying for probate of wills.
In almost all cases, probate is little more than a form-filling exercise (the size of the estate bears no relation to the work involved). The cost to the Ministry of Justice is minimal. The new fees, plainly, are not designed to cover court costs: they are what we now know as a “stealth tax”. They will fill the Treasury’s coffers and be used for general public expenditure.
The Orwellian “Ministry of Justice” was asked about these preposterous new charges. This is what its spokesman said: “Fees are necessary to maintain an accessible, world-leading justice system which puts the needs of victims and vulnerable people first.”
That was straightforward dishonesty. The fees are not going to be used to maintain the justice system. The Ministry was lying when it made that claim. The fees are a new tax, and it is deplorable that a government department should pretend they are not. It is worse that that government department claims to be a supporter of justice.
This government has got a lot to learn.