Families forced into financial and legal turbulence when their loved ones are reported missing have welcomed the announcement today that proposed guardianship legislation has passed its final stage in the House of Lords. Having already successfully passed through the House of Commons, the bill now awaits Royal Assent before becoming part of legislation.
There is no current legal provision for families to look after their loved one's financial and legal affairs while they are missing. This can mean a struggle to ensure their missing loved one's bills are paid, their homes are protected and their dependents' needs are looked after. For some, these practical difficulties have meant lost shared savings, deep debt and even lost homes. Families have been forced to stand by and watch as the life they hope their missing loved one will return to falls apart.
The charity Missing People has been campaigning for guardianship legislation to end these difficulties for over six years, alongside many families who have faced financial and legal battles after their loved ones have gone missing. Their campaign has been possible thanks to funding from players of People's Postcode Lottery, which has supported the charity since 2009.
Rachel Edwards, whose brother Richard of the Manic Street Preachers went missing in 1995, has campaigned for a change in the law, believing that nobody else should go through the same difficulties as her family.
Rachel said, "We started to encounter financial and legal problems immediately after my brother's disappearance. It took 13 years before we were able to look after his affairs, years during which my father had to shoulder many of the bills. We couldn't believe all the red tape that is put on families when we were already in the depths of despair.
"Although this new legislation won't be able to help my family, I'm so pleased to know that other families in a similar position will have help to look after their loved one's affairs."
The landmark moment today means that, following Royal Assent, the guardianship bill introduced by Kevin Hollinrake MP in the House of Commons and supported by Baroness Hamwee in the House of Lords, will finally become law. Once the law is fully enacted families will be able to apply to the courts for the right to look after their missing loved one's financial and legal affairs.
Susannah Drury, Director of Policy and Research at the charity Missing People, said, "We are delighted that after years of campaigning, guardianship of a missing person's affairs will finally become part of the law. It 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.
"We would like to thank those who have been instrumental throughout this process, especially Clifford Chance who have provided pro-bono legal advice, the Ministry of Justice and every MP Parliamentarian, and most importantly, the family members who have have worked with us throughout this campaign and who have shown so powerfully why guardianship is needed."