After six years of campaigning by families and the charity Missing People, the new law was given Royal Assent in Parliament in April 2017. However, the introduction of new guardianship legislation for the families of missing people has been delayed with no timeline in sight.
Over 110,000 adults are reported missing every year. For their families the heartache of searching and waiting for them can be unimaginable. At present, when someone goes missing, their family has no legal right to step in and manage their affairs. As a result, they are forced to watch as their loved one’s bank accounts get drained by direct debits, as bills go unpaid and, in some cases, as they lose their home.
The new legislation will allow families or friends to make an application to become a legal guardian for a person’s affairs while they are missing. This will mean they can manage their finances and ensure their dependents are looked after.
The Government suggested that the necessary steps would be taken to bring the law into force one year later, with any delays kept to an “absolute minimum”. But the Ministry of Justice has recently confirmed that this work has not been done, and that families won’t be able to start looking after their loved one’s affairs until October at the earliest, and possibly as late as 2019.
This further delay leaves thousands of families who desperately need this legislation in limbo. People who had hoped to finally be able to manage their loved one’s affairs are forced to continue to watch their finances fall apart. Tragically in the coming months more people will go missing and new families will be faced with financial and legal hardship that they have no legal framework to manage.
One relative of a missing person, who has chosen to stay anonymous, said:
“They are now repossessing his house and there’s nothing we can do. I was working on the basis of the new guardianship coming in in May 2018 but now we just don’t know.
The only people who have been helpful are the people repossessing the house. They allowed a friend in to collect some photos and other personal items, just things that we wanted to keep. We were lucky to get them and be able to keep them safe.”
Peter Lawrence, whose daughter Claudia has been missing since 2009, said:
“Thousands of families have been struggling to cope because a family member is missing and nothing can be done about their financial affairs, such as mortgages, insurances, investments. Great financial hardship is caused to many such families as a result. It has taken 6 years of campaigning to achieve legislation to deal with this problem, but although Ministers said the legislation would be in force by now, they now tell us that it may be yet another year. That means another year of financial hardship and extreme worry at a time when people are at their lowest ebb emotionally. The additional delay is inexcusable.”
Jo Youle, CEO of charity Missing People said:
“We were incredibly disappointed to hear of these further delays. The families that we support are desperately waiting for this vital legislation and many were devastated to find out they would not be able to apply in April this year. Many have already struggled for years and these extra months will mean further hardship, and for some, risks of losing their homes or watching their missing person’s finances descend into serious debt.”
The charity is encouraging members of the public to support families by emailing their local MP asking for Guardianship to be reprioritised.