Missing Persons – Some Relief for Those That Wait

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Lawyer Peter Lawrence’s daughter Claudia, a chef at York University, went missing in March 2009. Even with his legal knowledge, he could not get around the problem that no one could be authorised to manage her financial affairs. The law was of no help to him.

He said, “at the time when you are emotionally at your lowest ebb you are then faced with legal brick walls”

The legal brick wall was one that meant the families of missing persons did not have anyone who could step in and access their finances: to make sure that direct debits get paid, debts do not accumulate, and mortgages can get paid. If this does not happen families can suffer further distress of properties being repossessed, businesses being ruined, and employees of those businesses not being paid and eventually being out of work.

Peter Lawrence has been at the forefront of a campaign which has led to the passing of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, which has addressed a gap in the law that needed closing. Fittingly the new law has also become known as Claudia’ s Law’.

Statistics tell us that 87% of adults who go missing return safely within 2 days. However, they also tell us that 4% of adults are missing for longer than a week and in many cases for significantly longer. At any one time in England and Wales this amounts to 3,800 adults.

Each one of those missing is special and loved deeply by family and friends. Their sudden absence leaves family and friends devastated and bewildered as they try and come to terms with the situation that they are facing.

Not only are they trying to cope with their loved one being missing, they have the additional worry that nothing can be done to protect their loved one’s assets and affairs while they are missing.

From 31 July 2019 the position has changed radically

It is now possible for the High Court to appoint a guardian to manage the property and finances of a person if they have been missing for 90 days or more. In exceptional circumstances the period can be shorter. This also covers those who have been taken hostage, kidnapped or imprisoned abroad with no access to consulate services.

The guardianship lasts for 4 years and can be renewed for further periods of 4 years. The Guardian will be able to make decisions which are in the best interests of the missing person based on numerous factors set out in the new law.

The Public Guardians Office will supervise those making decisions for missing persons in much the same way as they currently do for those who lack mental capacity to manage their own affairs.

Guardians will be expected to take out a special type of insurance called a security bond and will need to operate a separate guardianship bank account. They must also submit an annual report to the PGO. Legal costs will be assessed by the Senior Courts Costs Office.

Our experts at IBB can support families in the most empathetic way in applying the new law.

Jacqueline Almond and I have more than 50 years of experience between us of managing the affairs of those who have lost mental capacity. We are both professional deputies. I am member of the Court of Protection’s Specialist Panel and am often appointed in the most difficult and stressful circumstances.

The law will take some time to settle, as families, lawyers, judges and the OPG take the first steps in this new area. If you think that we can give you some help and support you through these legal and financial issues, then please telephone me on 01895 201758.

I would be more than happy to speak over the telephone or I can arrange to meet you at your home or a place of your choice to help identify areas where we could provide help and assistance.

Having waited for so long for this new law to come in it is vital that families make use of it.