Families need a system of legal guardianship to protect their loved one’s finances and property.
All too often, families facing the devastation of a relative going missing also have to battle to prevent the life they hope their loved one will return to from falling apart. With no legal provision to enable families to look after a missing loved one’s finances and property, relatives can struggle to get their missing loved one’s bills paid, to protect their home, and to ensure their dependents are looked after. The consequences can be devastating, and can even lead to the missing person’s (and potentially their family’s) home being at risk. This situation is incredibly distressing for families, especially since they have to deal with it at the same time as their lives have been turned upside down by the trauma of their loved one’s disappearance. The lack of current provisions also creates challenges for financial and legal professionals who feel unable to help families manage their relative’s affairs because of the restrictions bound up with customer contracts and data protection.
When Peter’s daughter Claudia went missing, he quickly found out how difficult it was to deal with financial organisations on her behalf. One of Claudia’s banks felt unable to authorise his request to move money from one of her accounts to another to ensure important direct debits would continue to be paid. Another bank could not do anything with an investment which had come to the end of its term because Claudia could not give instructions. As a result, Peter has struggled to ensure that Claudia’s affairs are kept in order, and has spent huge amounts of time and money in the process. Peter is aware of other families who have faced similar problems with mortgage and insurance companies: “Once a mortgage hasn’t been paid for three months the mortgage company is quite likely to sell the property…you can’t do anything. The bank, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, they all say: ‘we can’t accept your instructions, as you’re not our customer’. You are at your lowest emotional ebb, and you have to fight all these problems…it’s terribly distressing.”
Missing People knows from our work supporting families that introducing legislation on guardianship could tackle this problem. It could enable families to apply to the courts for the right to manage their relative’s finances and property while they are missing. It would also provide certainty and clarity to legal and financial organisations about how they can work with family members to protect a missing person’s affairs. We know that similar legislation is already working well in Canada and Australia and is being developed in the Republic of Ireland, providing an ideal platform to build on here in the UK. Support for guardianship has been growing in recent years, with the Justice Select Committee and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Runaway and Missing Children and Adults both recommending the introduction of a guardianship system.
Following our campaign and support from partners and Parliamentarians, the government has committed to consult on a guardianship mechanism later in 2014, which is a positive step forward. However, we need a new law as soon as possible so that families (many of whom have been waiting many years for this legislation) are finally able to protect their missing loved ones’ lives.
Call to action - Guardianship: The government should prioritise the introduction of guardianship legislation to enable families to apply to the courts for the right to manage their relative’s finances and property while they are missing.