Controversy in the United Kingdom over the use of the funds of deceased persons without heirs for the benefit of royal estates

The Duchy of Lancaster, now run by King Charles III, was using medieval practices to seize assets known as “vacant honours” from people who die without a will or direct heirs, according to an investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian.

This will amount to about £60 million ($75 million) over the past decade, mostly from residents of northwest England.

Although the Duchy stated that this money went to charities, the newspaper reported that the majority of it was used to renovate and rent out properties owned by the king for profit.

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With this in mind, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, urged the British government to launch a public consultation on how the Crown Estate receives income from people who die without a will or without close relatives.

“I think many people in the Northwest would be surprised to learn that the savings and assets of friends and neighbors are being seized in this way,” Burnham warned in a statement.

“I don’t remember this old system being explained to anyone here or the public agreeing to it happen,” he said.

He also claimed that this looked like an exotic relic of feudal Britain.

Burnham raised concerns about a lack of transparency and accountability, saying people in northwest England should have a say in how this revenue is used.

Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region, also raised concerns, noting that at a time of economic crisis money earmarked for vulnerable people appears to be being used to refurbish royal properties rather than support charities.

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Meanwhile, Buckingham Palace has not commented on the matter, but it is estimated that this allegation may put pressure on the king to provide clarification on the issue.

Charles III inherited the Duchy of Lancaster from his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September 2022, and previously held the Duchy of Cornwall, which also collects “good vacancy” money.

The newspaper pointed out that the Duchy’s internal policy for 2020 gave royal estate officials a license to use “good vacancy” funds across a wide range of their profit-generating portfolio.

Friends of those whose assets were amassed by the King’s estate described this use of funds as “immoral” and “shocking”.

In response, a spokesman for the Duchy of Lancaster said that Charles reiterated upon accession that the funds should be used primarily to support local communities and preserve public and historic properties.

The spokesman added that before the money is distributed to charities, the money is allocated to the Late Claims Fund and the costs of managing and maintaining buildings of architectural interest are deducted.

With information from Telam

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