Consultation on Small Payment Limit Without Probate in Northern Ireland

Closes 24 Aug 2020

Opened 29 Jun 2020

Overview

The Administration of Estates (Small Payments) Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 (‘the 1967 Act’) sets a limit on the amount of property which certain organisations are permitted to distribute on the death of a member without the necessity for probate or other proof of title, or where the deceased has nominated a specific beneficiary. The legislation applies to certain payments made by industrial and provident societies, credit unions, trade unions, local councils and government departments.

The effect of the legislation is to allow the organisation to release money to a nominee or beneficiary, up to a fixed value, to which the deceased or his personal representative were entitled, without that nominee or beneficiary having to prove title or seek a Grant of Probate through the Probate Office. 

The limit was originally set at £500. It was increased to £1,500 in 1976 , and raised in 1985  to £5,000. In 2004  the limit was again raised from £5,000 to its current limit of £10,000. 

16 years have passed since the last review and the Department understands that the existing limit is posing certain problems for parties affected by the current limit, in that it is now much more frequent for amounts a little over £10,000 to be left by a deceased person, meaning beneficiaries need to seek a Grant of Probate of Grant of Letters of Administration.

This can add costs which subsequently impact negatively on the amount of the estate left to distribute. For those with minimal resources, these additional costs can be significant and can delay access to the estate at the most difficult of times. In some cases, beneficiaries may have to forgo receiving the whole amount to which they are entitled, because the costs of obtaining a Grant of Probate would be greater than the amount in excess of £10,000 that is available.

Seeking a Grant of Probate

Probate is a term used when talking about applying for the right to deal with the affairs of someone who has died. If the deceased has a will, the executor or administrator will apply to the Probate Office, an office at the Courts of Justice, for a Grant of Probate. If the deceased didn't leave a will, a close relative of the deceased can apply to the Probate Office to deal with the estate. In this case they apply for a 'Grant of Letters of Administration'.

In either case, the grant is a legal document which confirms that the executor or administrator has the authority to deal with the deceased person's assets. This is called 'administering the estate'. A grant is almost always needed when the person who died leaves more than £10,000. At the moment, in most cases, the institution holding the property will need to see the grant before transferring control of the assets to the executor or the administrator.

PROPOSAL

The Department considers that raising the sum has the potential to assist with some of the difficulties that beneficiaries may experience in relation to the deceased’s estate.

Such an increase would mean that there would be a quicker and more efficient process in the payment of money to nominated persons or beneficiaries, without the involvement and stress of court applications and associated bureaucracy for relatives.

It would also remove the need for legal fees and court fees to be paid by relatives. This is especially an issue where those relatives may be financially challenged and cannot afford to pay those fees in advance. 

Having had this opportunity to consider these issues and taking into account the 16 year period that has passed since the small payments limit was last reviewed, our initial view is that there is merit in raising the limit at this time, and that the sum of £20,000 appears a reasonable figure in the circumstances, taking account of the effects of inflation and the potential concerns which could be raised by stakeholders.

LEGISLATIVE CONTEXT

The powers to make payments to which the small payment limit applies are found in separate pieces of legislation. In each case the sum of money that can be distributed without grant of probate or letters of administration is limited to £10,000;

• for money belonging to deceased members of industrial and provident societies, the Industrial and Provident Societies Act (Northern Ireland) 1969;

• for money owed in relation to certain pension payments to deceased former civil servants by government departments, the Superannuation (Northern Ireland) Order 1972;

• for money owed to deceased former employees of local councils, the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985;

• for money belonging to deceased members of credit unions, the Credit Unions (Northern Ireland) Order 1985;

• for money owed to deceased members of trade unions, the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1992.

Raising the small payment limit for the organisations above requires the making of a single piece of subordinate legislation under the affirmative procedure by virtue of section 6(1) of the 1967 Act. 

The power to make an order under section 6(1) rests with the Department of Finance. The Department is therefore considering the making of such an order with our provisional view to raise the small payment limit to £20,000.

RESPONDING TO THE CONSULTATION

Representative groups

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Publication of responses

A paper summarising the responses to this consultation will be published in due course. The response paper will be available on-line at www.finance-ni.gov.uk and may be accompanied by the responses which we receive. This means your response may be disclosed. Before you submit your response, please read the paragraphs below on the confidentiality of consultations.

Privacy, Confidentiality and Access to Consultation Responses

For this consultation, we may publish all responses except for those where the respondent indicates that they are an individual acting in a private capacity (e.g. a member of the public). All responses from organisations and individuals responding in a professional capacity will be published.

We will remove all email addresses and telephone numbers from these responses, but apart from this we may publish them in full.

For more information about what we do with personal data, please see the link to our consultation privacy notice at the bottom of this page.

Your response, and all other responses to this consultation, may also be disclosed on request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR). However all disclosures will be in line with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679.

If you want the information that you provide to be treated as confidential, it would be helpful if you could explain to us why you regard the information you have provided as confidential, so that this may be considered if the Department should receive a request for the information under the FOIA or EIR.

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