The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 came into force in England and Wales on 31 July 2019. The act is informally known as Claudia’s Law, as former solicitor Peter Lawrence campaigned for a change after his daughter’s disappearance in 2009.
The law creates a new legal status of guardian of the affairs of a missing person, allowing someone to act in their best interests after they have been gone for 90 days or more.
It will mean that families can step in and safeguard their loved one’s assets in their absence – for example, suspending direct debits for mobile phone and utility bills or making mortgage payments.
Previously there was no mechanism in England and Wales to specifically protect the property and affairs of a missing person. Instead families could only take over the financial affairs of a missing person if they declared them dead, adding emotional pressure to families during an already difficult time. This also meant they could be left unable to pay debts or prevent repossessions or insolvency.
Justice Minister Paul Maynard said: ‘Claudia’s Law will mean families can oversee the financial and property affairs of their missing loved one – removing a huge burden at such a traumatic time.’
Successful applicants for the guardian role will be able to look after their loved one’s affairs for up to 4 years with the option to renew. Applications will be via the High court and once appointed, Guardians will be supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian.
Susannah Drury, Missing People’s Director of Policy and Research, said: ‘This is a triumph for all the family members who have campaigned with us over the past decade and shown so powerfully why Guardianship is needed. This regulation will mean that families who face the emotional distress of a disappearance will not be blocked from handling the financial and legal affairs of their loved ones.’