The government have now confirmed that the guardianship legislation will be enacted in July 2019. A full 27 months after the bill was given Royal Assent in April 2017, at which time the Government suggested that the necessary steps would be taken to bring the law into force one year later, with any delays kept to an “absolute minimum”.
At present, when someone goes missing, their family has no legal right to step in and manage their affairs. As a result, they are forced to watch as their loved one’s bank accounts get drained by direct debits, as bills go unpaid and, in some cases, as they lose their home. The new legislation will allow families or friends to make an application to become a legal guardian for a person’s affairs while they are missing. This will mean they can manage their finances and ensure their dependents are looked after.
This further delay leaves thousands of families who desperately need this legislation in limbo. People who had hoped to finally be able to manage their loved one’s affairs are forced to continue to watch their finances fall apart. Tragically in the coming months more people will go missing and new families will be faced with financial and legal hardship that they have no legal framework to manage.
One relative of a missing person said:
“They are now repossessing his house and there’s nothing we can do. I was working on the basis of the new guardianship coming in in May 2018 but now we just don’t know.
The only people who have been helpful are the people repossessing the house. They allowed a friend in to collect some photos and other personal items, just things that we wanted to keep. We were lucky to get them and be able to keep them safe.”
Peter Lawrence, father of Claudia who has been missing since 2009 said:
“Over 2,500 families have been struggling to cope because a family member is missing and nothing can be done about their financial affairs, such as mortgages, insurances, investments. Great financial hardship is caused to many such families as a result. It has taken 6 years of campaigning to achieve legislation to deal with this problem, but although Ministers said the legislation would be in force by now, they now tell us that it may be yet another year. That means another year of financial hardship and extreme worry at a time when people are at their lowest ebb emotionally. The additional delay is inexcusable.”
You can join the campaign to ensure that guardianship is reprioritised by emailing your MP. Letting your MP know that you care about guardianship, and asking them to contact the Ministry of Justice ensures that the decision makers realise how important it is to give this support to families of missing people. You can find your MPs email address here.