Thousands of people whose loved ones have gone missing will now be able to manage their finances thanks to the Guardianship Act 2017, which becomes law at the end of the month (31 July).
The charity Missing People and families affected by a disappearance have been campaigning for a change in the law for the last eight years.
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 longer than a year.
As well as the trauma this causes for those left behind, before the change in the law, they also struggled because they were unable to manage their loved one’s bills, rent, mortgage or other costs, or look after their dependents.
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.
Rachel Edwards, whose brother Richard, AKA Richie, 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.”
Peter Lawrence, whose daughter Claudia has been missing since 2009, and has been campaigning for a change in the law, said:
“After an extremely long campaign, I am delighted that Claudia’s law is finally coming into force at the end of July. This will make so much difference to the hundreds, if not thousands, of families who have been anxiously waiting for it. They will not have to worry about not being able to manage their missing loved ones financial affairs, as well as the trauma of what they are going through emotionally.”
Missing People’s Director of Policy and Research Susannah Drury said:
“This is truly fantastic news. For the first time, families will be able to step in and look after their missing loved one’s finances and property, and stop the life they hope their loved one will return to from falling apart. We are incredibly grateful to the families who have campaigned alongside us, Parliamentarians who have helped make this law a reality and the pro bono legal support we have received from Clifford Chance.
“Missing People will be able to provide families with advice and support on guardianship through our helpline 116000.”