On 31 January 2019, in an open letter to charities, the Chief Executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’), Susan Acland-Hood, notified the sector of the decision to terminate the contract with Smee & Ford. Those in the charities sector, particularly Legacy Officers and those working in Legacy teams, will know that Smee & Ford currently provide a paid-for notification service to participating charities to alert them to bequests in wills which are put to probate.
Though no specific reasons have been given, HMCTS has said that the current contract is “not consistent with the department’s legal duties”. Some have speculated that this could either relate to General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679, the regulation on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the EU and EEA, more commonly known as GDPR, or, perhaps, competition laws.
Smee & Ford’s notification service has been key to participating charities in providing early notification and transparency.
With legacy income continuing to grow year-on-year and now accounting for approximately a third of all income across the third sector, ensuring that there is a suitable replacement service is crucial.
As such, HMCTS has invited representatives from the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, the Institute of Fundraising and the Institute of Legacy Management to join a working group with the aim of establishing a suitable replacement service.
Without knowing the full details, it is difficult to question the need to terminate the current contract.
It is vital that, when considering any replacement service, the views of the stakeholders, namely charities and the third sector, are taken on board and not merely paid lip service to and having representation from the various organisations in that sector is key.
While there have been rumours that any replacement notification service could be at the expense of the taxpayer, that seems unlikely. Indeed, any replacement service should, in our view, remain a paid-for notification/subscription service both for the benefit of the taxpayer and the third sector. Otherwise there is a risk of reputational damage to the sector with the potential knock-on effect of discouraging legacies, now so vital a source of income to charities.
Update as of 5 July 2019
Roman Kubiak and Vlad Macdonald-Munteanu recently recorded a charities podcast on the update about the bequest notification service from Smee & Ford. Tune in to the podcast to find out more.
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