The proposals are to create a new power of ‘guardianship’ for relatives of missing people. This would allow families to deal with the legal and financial issues that arise in the initial months when someone vanishes – for example being able to suspend direct debits for mobile phone and utility bills.
This latest announcement follows the recent creation of new laws which, once they are introduced in April 2014, will enable bereaved families to deal with the affairs of someone who is missing and presumed dead.
Justice Minister Helen Grant said:
‘When a person disappears with no explanation, their friends and family are left with an unbelievable amount to cope with – all of the unanswered questions and difficult emotions.
‘We want to do everything we can to help families of missing people to deal with the administrative problems that can make life even more trying at such a difficult time.
‘That is why we want to put measures in place so they can make alternative arrangements for the legal and financial affairs of their missing loved one. By having guardianship powers in place in those early months we can reduce some of the burdens when people’s lives are turned upside down.
‘I want to do all that we can to support those left behind.’
Under current law families of missing people have no way to make alternative arrangements until their loved one can be presumed dead. This can be years after they went missing. These proposals will fill that gap by creating a temporary status so a guardian can manage the property and affairs of the missing person.
Missing People Chief Executive Jo Youle said:
‘The absence of “guardianship” provisions means that families currently face a huge ordeal in managing their missing loved one’s affairs. Ongoing direct debits can drain a missing person’s bank account, some families are forced to pay both halves of a joint mortgage, and some families risk losing their homes.
‘We look forward to working with families and other partners following this very positive announcement to help ensure the most efficient system for families facing significant practical and financial challenges alongside the distress of a disappearance.’
A consultation with detailed proposals is due to be launched later this year with a view to taking a final decision in 2014.
The Presumption of Death Act, which received Royal Assent in May, was the first stage in the Government’s commitment to better support families of missing people. It put in place the legal framework for a certificate of presumed death, which will help families deal with the array of legal and financial issues that need to be resolved when a person is missing and presumed dead. This certificate will be equivalent to a death certificate in its legal power.
Notes to editors
- For more information please call the Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3536. Follow us on Twitter @mojpress
- An application for Guardianship will only be made when it becomes clear that the absence could be lengthy.
- Read the Government’s response to the Justice Select Committee report from July 2012
- Read the Justice Select Committee report from February 2012
- The All-party parliamentary group (APPG) published a report in 2011 on runaway and missing children which informed the MoJ’s response.
- For more information from Missing People’s press office please call 020 8392 4511.
- For more information on Missing People please visit missingpeople.org.uk
- In August 2012 new guidance was published by the UK Missing Person’s Bureau.
- For further details on the Presumption of Death Act please visit www.legislation.gov.uk