New law will ‘lessen the strain’ on families of missing people

Claudia Lawrence has been missing since 2009.
Claudia Lawrence has been missing since 2009.
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MPs of all parties are being urged to back a long-awaited Bill that will enable the families of missing persons to take control of their loved one’s finances.

Dubbed “Claudia’s Law” after the missing Yorkshire chef Claudia Lawrence, the measure will allow relatives to apply for guardianship of their assets for up to four years.

The legislation has been heralded by campaigners as a significant step toward easing the burden on hundreds of “distressed” families.

It is being tabled by the Malton and Thirsk MP Kevin Hollinrake, who hopes the Bill will help relatives avoid a build up of debt in their loved one’s absence.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, the MP explained that under current legislation, families of missing people often find themselves unable to influence their direct debits, mortgage payments or rent.

“You can imagine – as well as the obvious stress... of a loved one going missing, you’ve got these other added pressures which may lead to the people themselves losing their home,” he said.

“There’s lots of different financial transactions that need to be managed by somebody... It’s just one more problem that needs to be solved.

“So a chance to alleviate some of that pressure... is an obvious one, and something that we can do something about very quickly in Parliament.”

For many families the only way to resolve the situation around a missing relative’s finances is to apply for a declaration of presumed death.

However, this requires a number of conditions to be met, and is seen by some as a sign that they have given up on their loved one returning.Mr Hollinrake’s Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill seeks to provide an alternative through a process similar to granting power of attorney.

Individuals will be able to apply to take control of some or all of a missing person’s finances for up to four years, with the option of reapplying once the period is up.

The Bill will have its first reading in the Commons next week, under the Ten Minute Rule Motion. If it is unopposed, it will enter the first stages of the legislative process on the way to becoming law.

Similar legislation was promised by the Government back in 2015, but to date has failed to emerge.

Peter Lawrence, father of the missing University of York chef Claudia Lawrence, said it was “incredible” no such law currently exists. But he told this paper he is optimistic about this new attempt at reform.

“When Claudia first went missing, within a few weeks I realised there wasn’t any legislation that allowed anybody left behind to look after the financial affairs and I quite honestly couldn’t believe it,” he said.

“You can’t cancel direct debits, you can’t do anything with a car that’s left behind, and you can’t do anything when a favourable mortgage rate comes to an end... which can make a huge difference.

“This first comes when you’re emotionally at your lowest ebb: someone you love has gone missing, you don’t know what’s happened, and then this hits you.

“It’s 22 months now since the Government committed to this legislation... so lets hope something positive comes next week.”

According to the charity Missing People, 80,000 adults are reported missing to British police forces each year.

Most are found safe and well within a week, but around 4,000 remain missing for over a week, and up to 1,500 go missing for longer than a year.

Susannah Drury, director of services and advocacy at the charity, said she is “encouraged” to reach this stage “after years of campaigning by families, the charity Missing People and Parliamentarians”.

She said: “Every two minutes someone goes missing in the UK, so this is a situation where more families are affected with every day that passes.”

“Guardianship will help to lessen the strain on thousands of families already facing emotional distress, and mean that a returning missing person will not return to find their legal and financial affairs in disarray.

“We would urge the Government to expedite the introduction of a guardianship bill.”