After a long campaign the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 becomes law today. It means that families with a loved one who has disappeared can protect their assets and look after their finances when they are long-term missing.
Missing People and the families affected have campaigned for a change in the law since 2008. The charity is now developing guidance to help people set up agreements now the legislation has been enacted. In the past, homes have been repossessed, people evicted and credit ratings destroyed because relatives are unable to step in and manage money on the missing person’s behalf.
More than 95,000 adults go missing in the UK every year, most are found within a week but 3,000 are missing for longer, and 1,000 people are missing for more than a year.
As well as the trauma this causes for those left behind, people struggled because they were unable to manage their loved one’s bills, rent, mortgage or other costs, or look after their dependents.
Rachel Edwards, whose brother Richard went missing in 1995, said: “It has been very difficult. My father had to pay Richard’s bills out of his own money and we could not rent or sell his flat because we were not the legal owners. In the end we got a grant of representation, which took four years.”
Missing People has estimated that guardianship will help around 2,500 families in this situation to look after finances and property belonging to the missing person until they return, and help their family.
Families who were affected lobbied parliament with Missing People, and took part in consultations and kept the campaign on the Government’s agenda.
In January 2017, Kevin Hollinrake MP introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons, which passed all the Commons stages in just under eleven weeks, with just one obstacle when an MP objected at the final hour, postponing the Third Reading by a month.
CEO of Missing People, Jo Youle met with the MP to ensure no future opposition and the successful Third Reading took place on 24 March 2017. The bill then passed to the House of Lords where it was led by Baroness Hamwee, where it made it through all stages in less than five weeks. Many MPs and Peers from all parties, as well as from the Ministry of Justice, supported the Bill and enabled it to become law.
Missing People’s Director of Policy and Research Susannah Drury said: “We are delighted that this long-awaited act will finally mean that families can look after their loved one’s affairs. Missing People is now developing guidance around the new powers so that we can provide families with advice and support if they are making an application.”