A long-awaited law to help relatives of missing people is to be finally enacted in July next year after a long delay.
Ann Coffey, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children, who has been campaigning for eight years for a law that would allow families to look after their missing loved ones financial and legal affairs, said that the start date could not come a moment too soon.
She said the law was desperately needed as an estimated 2,500 families are currently struggling to sort out their relatives’ bills, mortgage payments and other red tape.
A Bill was passed in the House of Commons in April 2017, to allow families of missing people ‘guardianship’ status – similar to power of attorney – to manage financial and legal affairs but so far no-one has been able to use it. This is because of numerous delays to necessary work which needed to be undertaken before families could start to make applications.
However, the Ministry of Justice has now confirmed that the legislation will be formally enacted in July 2019 – almost two years after the Bill first received Royal Assent.
Ann Coffey said:
“The day of enactment cannot come a moment too soon for the families of missing people. The practical implications of a loved one going missing are often eclipsed by the emotional impact. But financial difficulties can make a terrible situation more traumatic.
“It can cause long term hardship and in the worse cases homes have been repossessed.
“Having a date for the enactment is a big step forward, despite the long delay. It will alleviate some of the extra stress for families at a time of great emotional upheaval and will help them to cope in the initial months with the complicated financial and practical affairs of a relative who has gone missing.”
The APPG held an inquiry in 2011 into the support for families of missing people. It was done in conjunction with the Missing People charity. One of its main recommendations was for a power of guardianship and another was for a Presumption of Death Act, which was introduced in April 2014, and allows a missing person to be presumed dead after seven years. The guardianship order helps relatives cope in the meantime.
The uncle of a missing man, who joined the campaign for guardianship, because of the distress his family suffered, said:
“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 even get them and be able to keep them safe.”