Families forced into financial and legal turbulence when their loved ones are reported missing have welcomed the announcement today that proposed guardianship legislation has passed its final stage in the House of Lords.
"We are delighted that after years of campaigning, guardianship of a missing person’s affairs will finally become part of the law. It will not only help to lessen the strain on thousands of families already dealing with the emotional distress of having a missing loved one, but it will also mean that a missing person who returns will not find their legal and financial affairs in disarray.
We would like to thank those who have been instrumental throughout this process, especially Clifford Chance who have provided pro-bono legal advice and every MP Parliamentarian and most importantly, the family members who has have worked with us throughout this campaign and who have shown so powerfully why guardianship is needed.” - Susannah Drury, Director of Services and Advocacy at Missing People
Having already successfully passed through the House of Commons, the bill now awaits Royal Assent before becoming law. There is no current legal provision for families to look after their loved one’s financial and legal affairs while they are missing. This can mean a struggle to ensure their missing loved one’s bills are paid, their homes are protected and their dependents’ needs are looked after. For some, these practical difficulties have meant lost shared savings, deep debt and even lost homes. Families have been forced to stand by and watch as the life they hope their missing loved one will return to falls apart.
Missing People has been campaigning for guardianship legislation to end these difficulties for over six years, alongside many families who have faced financial and legal battles after their loved ones have gone missing. Their campaign has been possible thanks to financial support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, which has supported the charity since 2009.
Peter Lawrence, whose daughter Claudia has been missing since 2009, has campaigned constantly for a change in the law, believing that nobody else should go through the same difficulties as his family. He said:
I am delighted that the Guardianship Bill has now had its final Reading in the House of Lords and should be given Royal Assent next week when the current Parliament ends. Families will have to wait for the necessary Rules and Regulations to be made to enable the Act to be brought into force. However, the 2,500 families who have been waiting for many years for this legislation may rest assured that they will soon have the ability to look after the financial and practical affairs of their missing loved one, and this will in itself lessen the emotional pain. Rejoice!”
Edward Hodges, whose son Carl went missing from Northwood in February last year, said:
For over a year now, our family has been in pieces, not knowing where Carl is or whether he is safe. And on top of this, we’ve been forced to contest with banks, councils, estate agents, car insurance companies; all of whom refuse to speak to us as we are not the account holders.
We’re so pleased that this new law will make it that little bit easier for other families facing this awful situation in the future.”
Carl’s partner, Charlotte, said:
Living without Carl has been so difficult in so many different ways. Having to cope with the financial issues just makes everything harder. I couldn’t be more pleased that this new law will ensure that families like ours don’t have to struggle with these practical difficulties while also searching for their missing person.”
Rachel Edwards, whose brother, Richard of the Manic Street Preachers went missing in 1995, said:
“We started to encounter financial and legal problems immediately after my brother’s disappearance. It took 13 years before we were able to look after his affairs, years during which my father had to shoulder many of the bills. We couldn’t believe all the red tape that is put on families when we were already in the depths of despair.
Although this new legislation won’t be able to help my family, I’m so pleased to know that other families in a similar position will have help to look after their loved one’s affairs.”
Today’s landmark moment means that, following Royal Assent, the guardianship bill, also known as Claudia’s Law in recognition of Peter Lawrence’s central role in the campaign, will finally become law. Once the law is fully enacted, families will be able to apply to the courts for the right to look after their missing loved one’s financial and legal affairs.