Even The Dead Must Give

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Britain’s hereditary head of state Charlie Windsor has been misusing the money that he is allowed to take from the pockets of citizens who die intestate in some parts of England, according to the Guardian newspaper.

The British monarch is given the income from the Duchy of Lancaster, a land and property holding in north west England. The income from the similar Duchy of Cornwall is given to his eldest son.

The Lancaster duchy’s assets include farmland, hotels, warehouses, shops and urban properties. Neither duchy pays corporation or capital gains tax. Together they have had excess of £1.2bn in profits in sixty years.

One source of income for the Lancaster duchy is the assets of people in Lancashire and parts of Cumbria, Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside who die without making a will and and with no known next of kin entitled to inherit from them.

The Guardian found that several of the people whose money had been taken had lived in poor conditions.

But the money they left behind has often been spent on enhancing upscale properties owned by the duchy.

In the last ten years the duchy has taken more than £60m from the estates of the dead. It claims that this income has been given to charities. But the Guardian reported that in fact much of it has been spent on improvements to duchy properties, from which Mr Windsor profits. Only 15% has been given to charities.

In 2020 duchy staff were told that they could spend these funds on improving its property portfolio. The portfolio includes town houses, cottages, farm buildings, and a former petrol station. At the time of this decision the duchy acknowledged internally that this might result in an increase to the Windsor family’s income. When Charlie became head of state he endorsed the continued misuse of this income.

The duchy justifies its policy with the claim that the money spent on upgrading its properties is money spent on the “public good” by improving “heritage assets”.

This seems to mean that the money cannot spent on fitting kitchens. But it can be spent on such public goods as installing log burners and repairing garden walls.

The Guardian found that the policy conveniently allows the spending of money taken from the dead on improvements and maintenance on about 50% of duchy properties.

Such upgrading of properties increases the income they bring in for the feudal family. In 2023 this contributed to the £26m that the duchy generated for Windsor.