Briefing: changes to HMCTS Legal Notification Service

In January this year Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) announced that it would be setting up a new alert system for charitable bequests. The previous system had been in place for decades and was run by Smee and Ford who provided a paid-for notification service to participating charities. HMCTS said its review of the relationship came as a result of “an assessment on our legal position” and was not a reflection of on the service provided by Smee and Ford.

In an open letter announcing the changes Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive at HMTCS said it would work with the sector to create a new arrangement and seek to ensure as little disruptions as possible. ACEVO, NCVO and the Institute of Fundraising were among the charities invited to participate in ongoing discussions.

HMCTS working group on Legal Notification Service

We are pleased that ACEVO member and RSCPA CEO Chris Sherwood is representing ACEVO on the HMCTS working group on Legal Notification Service. The first meeting was held on 5 March and HMCTS’ summary of the meeting is available here.

At the meeting two issues in particular were flagged for prioritisation:

  1. The need for interim arrangements to be put in place for when Smee and Ford’s notice period ends in July.
  2. For clarity about the options available for long term solutions.

Chris advocated for any new notification service to work for organisations of all sizes; this means there is unlikely to be a one size fits all approach. It is also important to ensure that small and medium sized charities are not disadvantaged by any new process.

We believe that it is possible, at least in the short term, that costs to charities using the notification service will go up. The working group discussed the need for stability and there was a suggestion by some members of the working group to extend Smee and Ford’s contract until the new system was in place.

A second working group meeting hasn’t yet been scheduled and earlier this month Chris asked HMCTS for an update and for the next meeting to be scheduled. HMCTS has said that work is ongoing regarding interim arrangements and it is not yet in the position to share anything.

Ed Owen, director of communications at HMCTS spoke at the Institute of Legacy Management’s conference on 13 May and was asked questions by delegates about what action was being taken. Unfortunately he was unable to provide further information or an update. In response ACEVO, the Institute of Fundraising, Remember a Charity, NCO and the Institute of Legacy Management have written to Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive of HMCTS asking for urgent action on the legacy notification service.

If you have a question, concern or suggestions about the changes to the Legal Notification Service then Chris Sherwood is happy to be contacted directly.

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