Families of missing people could be given authority to deal with the legal and financial affairs of their loved one, under plans being consulted on by the Ministry of Justice.
Justice minister Lord Faulks QC announced today that the government is considering the creation of a status of guardian of the property and affairs of a missing person, allowing them, for example, to suspend direct debits for mobile phone and utility bills or to make mortgage payments.
Under the proposals an appointment will be made by the court on application by an interested person after a person has been missing for of at least 90 days.
The appointment will confer authority on the guardian to act for the missing person in relation to his or her property and affairs, subject to any limits imposed by the court.
The guardian, who will have to act in the best interests of the missing person, will be required to account for their actions to a supervisory body. Any appointment will be for a period of up to four years with the possibility of extension for a further four.
The move follows the introduction of certificates of presumed death, which can be applied for by relatives from 1 October 2014. These will be equivalent to death certificates and will enable families to resolve a loved one's affairs when he or she is thought have died.
Lord Faulks QC said: 'The sudden disappearance of a loved one, perhaps without any obvious explanation is a traumatic event for even the most resilient. The emotional and personal problems caused by absences of several months or even years are all too obvious, but they can be compounded by the practical consequences of the disappearance.'
Welcoming the consultation the director of policy and advocacy for missing people, Susannah Drury, said the group has been campaigning for the introduction of such a guardianship and hoped its outcome would be positive. The consultation ends on 18 November.