A new law will allow relatives of missing people to take charge of their family member’s property and financial affairs, such as suspending direct debit payments for mobile phone and utility bills, and making mortgage payments, the Ministry of Justice announced today. 

A guardian would be appointed by the court on application by a person with a ‘sufficient interest’ in the property and affairs of the missing person.

The guardian would be supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian and be required to file accounts in the same way as a deputy appointed under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

The appointment would be for a period of up to four years, after which the guardian can apply for an extension of up to another four years.

The MoJ said it hoped legislation would be brought forward without delay in the new parliament.

Justice minister Lord Faulks said: ‘When someone suddenly disappears, their affairs can be thrown into disarray, adding to the distress and emotional heartbreak experienced by family members.’

The provisional proposals were developed by the MoJ with the help of charity Missing People and its pro bono lawyers magic circle firm Clifford Chance.

Susannah Drury, director of policy and advocacy for Missing People, said today’s announcement was a ‘huge step’ forward for missing people and their families.

She said: ‘Until now, these families have been powerless to stop the lives that they hope their missing loves ones will return to from falling apart.’

The new legislation follows last October's introduction of certificates of presumed death, for which family members can apply.