HM Courts & Tribunals Service

Topics: Paper to Digital

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INTERNET ACCESS TO OVER 150 YEARS OF WILLS

Iron Mountain® has provided scan-on-demand services to enhance access to wills via an online portal on the GOV.UK website


Challenge

Provide an online index with search and ordering facilities for wills held by the Probate Service dating back to 1858

Solution

Purpose-built outsourced storage facility housing physical documents with scan-on-demand of online customer orders for wills

Value

Substantially enhanced accessibility to historic files, with a more sustainable process that has significantly reduced the service lead-time


Client

Not only is a Last Will and Testament of vital significance to the departed’s beneficiaries, it offers a potent reference source for generations to come. In the UK, law dictates that such documents must be kept in perpetuity and made available to anyone who wants to see them. That could be for a solicitor acting for an individual, a relative researching a family tree, or the merely curious.

In England and Wales the responsibility to securely store and provide access to the documents falls to the Probate Service – part of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). The archive dates back to 1858, the year responsibility was transferred from local parish councils. Currently occupying more than 200,000 cubic feet, the archive comprises over 41 million records and is growing with the addition of around 250,000 probate records each year.

Challenge

Iron Mountain has been the service provider of off-site records management to the Probate Service for over 15 years – initially to consolidate files held at the main Somerset House registry, 12 district probate registries and 18 sub-registries. A special facility was created in Birmingham to centralise and standardise records management. Known as the Probate Records Centre it is highly secure and has a climate-controlled environment, compliant with BS 5454, to store the records in optimum condition.

As well as storage, the Iron Mountain service includes retrieval and provision of copy documents against customer orders placed with the Probate Service. The retrieval service has been continually enhanced, evolving in tune with emerging technologies.

Mark Burden, Northern Probate Manager at HMCTS, says: “We’ve had a joint objective to provide an online ordering service for some time. This would help us better serve our customers, make records more accessible and transparent, and fit perfectly with the UK Government digital agenda.”

Solution

The Probate Service commissioned Iron Mountain to create an online portal that would allow customers to search, order and pay for a copy of a will. A digitised copy of the requested will and the associated grant of representation would then be available for download. The task had added complexity because Probate Service records were held in different forms.

Mark Burden explains: “Between 1858 and 1972 every Probate Registry maintained a calendar in book form, creating ledgers listing the grants of probate issued.

There was a strong desire to make these records available to the general public as a rich source of information for genealogists and people researching family histories. The soldiers’ wills would also provide a pilot to help build and test the portal.

Phil Greenwood, Commercial Director at Iron Mountain, says: “Many of the wills of the soldiers who lost their lives during World War One are extremely fragile. After discussion with HMCTS, we decided to scan the entire collection in order to minimise subsequent handling and make it possible for our customer to have the wills available to order online in time for the 2014 centenary commemorations. Alongside the scanned records, we created an index that would make it possible for the general public to search the records.”

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