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Missing Persons Guardianship Bill Clears Parliament

Missing Persons Guardianship Bill Clears Parliament

Missing Persons Guardianship Bill

A bill that aims to assist the families of missing persons has cleared its parliamentary stages.

The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill is also known as ‘Claudia’s Law,’ in memory of Claudia Lawrence, who was 35 when she went missing on her way to work in York in 2009. Police believe Claudia was murdered, but her body has never been found. Earlier this year an investigation into her disappearance was scaled back.

The bill, which received an unopposed third reading in the House of Lords and will now go forward for Royal Assent, establishes a new legal mechanism to deal with the property and financial affairs of a missing person.

The law, which applies in England and Wales, will enable someone with an interest in the property of a missing person to be named as a guardian by a court 90 days after they have gone missing. It would allow a guardian to be appointed for a period lasting up to four years.

New law could help as many as 2,500 families

Peter Lawrence, Claudia’s father, said the law was a fitting tribute to his daughter. The 70-year-old retired solicitor has admitted he had been surprised to discover there existed no legal provision for families to look after the finances of their missing loved ones and says he felt compelled to begin campaigning for a change in the law. He estimates the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill could help as many as 2,500 families.

“There are about 2,500 families waiting for this bill to become law enabling them to do what everybody else does automatically every day, like move money in bank accounts, change direct debits and renew their mortgage. At the moment these people can’t do that,” he says.

“It will take away so many of the worries you have. You are still dealing with the emotional impact of someone being missing without having to deal with this on top of it,” he added.

Baroness Hamwee, who introduced the bill in the Lords, has described how the change in the law would help families. She said: “They are so disadvantaged as the money just drains out if they can’t stop direct debits or cancel bills. Now you can have someone from the family who can access the accounts.”

Families left in limbo

At the moment, a claim for a ‘declaration of presumed death’ from the High Court can be made once a person has been missing for seven years or more – although such a claim can also be made in cases where the court is satisfied that the missing person is dead.

However, families can find themselves in financial limbo and experience hardships because existing bills, such as home loan repayments and council tax in the missing person’s name, still have to be paid. Also, if a property is in the missing person’s name it cannot be sold until they are confirmed dead, or a presumption of death is legally accepted.

Law as it stands add to families’ stress

Susannah Drury, from the Missing People charity, which has been campaigning to change the rules for the past six years, said the change in the law “will not only help to lessen the strain on thousands of families already dealing with the emotional distress of having a missing loved one, but it will also mean that a missing person who returns will not find their legal and financial affairs in disarray.”

An estimated 250,000 people go missing each year, according to the Home Office.

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