A new series of Reported Missing on BBC One has illustrated the many different reasons why people go missing, however, the problems for the ‘left behind’ families of long term missing adults are often forgotten. They often suffer the anguish of not knowing what has happened to their loved one, combined with the practical and financial worries which include:
- overdrawn bank accounts;
- jointly owned property that can’t be sold or re mortgaged;
- unpaid bills and mortgages, and
- financial institutions who present a blank wall of ‘data protection’ to any request for information and help.
The 2018/19 data for England & Wales shows that there were a total of 4,054 individuals who had been missing for more than 12 months, 61% of which were adults. The most common reasons to go missing were mental health, relationships, drugs/alcohol, depression or anxiety, dementia and suicide.
If the missing person is believed to still be alive – and this can include hostages held abroad – the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, known as ‘Claudia’s Law’ can help. The Act came into effect on 31 July 2019 and allows someone to manage a missing person’s affairs in the hope that they will one day return. It enables a guardian to be appointed, usually after 90 days have passed following a disappearance, to manage their loved one’s finances. One of the key points of the new Act is that a guardian has to act in the ‘best interests’ of the missing person. There is a helpful Code of Practice to support guardians in making decisions, such as re – mortgaging a property and making gifts.
Where a missing person is believed to have died, the Presumption of Death Act 2013 (PODA) provides a framework for obtaining a declaration of presumed death, which acts in place of a death certificate. An application can be made at any point after the disappearance and may be more appropriate than a guardianship order in the case, for example of a suicide.
If you are affected by any of these issues it is important that you seek independent legal advice to steer you through the necessary applications you may need to make.
Ann-Marie Matthews is a solicitor in the private client team at Barker Gotelee, Suffolk Solicitors.