No-one can prepare for the heartache and confusion when a loved one disappears without a trace. For those fortunate enough, the missing person returns and their lives can start to be rebuilt. But for some, life will never be the same again. A future of uncertainty. Never knowing whether that person will walk back through the door and always hoping they might. This sense of loss is compounded by practical concerns, such as dealing with the missing person's direct debits, bills and property.
That is why I am introducing proposals to create a new power of 'guardianship' for relatives of missing people. It will allow people to deal with the legal and financial issues that arise after the first few months when someone vanishes - for example, giving them the power to suspend mobile phone bills and curb the daily letters that only act as a reminder of their loss.
For too long, families of missing people have had no way to make alternative arrangements until their loved one can be 'presumed dead'. Under current law, this can take several years. During this time, some people can find themselves being forced to pay both halves of a joint mortgage or risk losing their home all together.
This is clearly not right and that is why I am enabling families to make the necessary arrangements and get their loved ones' affairs in order. It doesn't lift the burden of losing someone in such terrible circumstances, but it does at least resolve one cause of anxiety much more quickly than the law currently allows.
I can think of several instances where this new proposal could have helped, including the case of Jane Dolby, whose fisherman husband, Colin, went missing at sea in 2008. Tragically, Colin Dolby's body was washed up on the beach eight months later. However, in those intervening eight months, Mrs Dolby could not get the death certificate she needed to access her husband's bank account or to claim any benefits. She was left without an income and faced significant financial hardship.
I want to ensure this type of scenario is not repeated by filling the gap between a person being officially 'missing' and 'presumed dead.'
I realise nothing can bring a loved one back, but I hope this measure will help to ease the pain of families having to deal with the loss of a missing person. I want to do all I can to support those left behind.