Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Guardianship – an update

It’s estimated that 250,000 families in the UK will experience a loved one going missing each year. The good news is that the majority of those who disappear return safe and well within 48 hours, but for other families, the outcome isn’t as positive. As the days turn into weeks, families of longer-term missing people will have to start managing their loved one’s affairs. At what’s already a time of distress, grief and uncertainty – a feeling described as ‘ambiguous loss’ - the additional minefield of dealing with their loved one’s assets can only add to the ordeal. And while a person’s disappearance can have practical repercussions for their family, there is also understandably the feeling of need on the family’s behalf to keep their loved one’s affairs in order should they return.
As a charity we are frequently contacted by families in need of advice about how to manage these affairs. Dealing with institutions from banks to mortgage providers, many people find they are powerless until seven years have passed – the time at which their relative can be presumed dead. When you consider that problems can arise as soon as a week after a loved one’s disappearance, it’s easy to see that waiting years to manage their assets can prove devastating. Families might need to cancel direct debits from their loved one’s bank account, only to find that the signature of their missing relative is required, as Kate Brown describes here.  Perhaps they have a joint mortgage with their missing relative but can’t make any changes due to not being the leading name on the contract. In some cases family members have their property repossessed as a result of them struggling to make their mortgage payments.

Recognising a need, we have been campaigning for several years to ease the struggles these families experience. Similar to Power of Attorney, Guardianship legislation would allow families with a missing loved one to apply to the courts for the legal right to manage and safeguard a missing relative’s practical affairs whilst they are away.

Vicki, whose husband's remains were sadly found in 2012, says “When my husband first went missing there was the huge impact of suddenly going from being a couple and having two wages to suddenly overnight becoming a single mum who could only work part time, with a mortgage and bills to pay. There was this traumatic thing going on that my husband was missing, and that in itself was traumatic enough, but there was still the everyday living to do as well. A law to help protect missing people’s finances and help their families with the financial problems they face is urgently needed, so that other people don’t have to go through the same experience as me.”

Responding to consultation in November last year we renewed our calls on the government to introduce Guardianship legislation. At the end of March this year we heard the fantastic news that the government will bring forward Guardianship legislation, but the journey doesn’t stop there. We need your help to lobby the government and keep introducing Guardianship legislation as a priority. That’s why we’re asking you to write to your MP today to tell them just how important Guardianship is – it takes only two minutes and could make all the difference in helping ease the heartache of several thousand people with a missing loved one. 

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Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

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