At The NBS, we work in partnership with a wide variety of organisations, which enables us to signpost people to specialist help and information if we think it could benefit their specific circumstances. In just the same way, our partners often refer people to us, so that we can offer them support, practical guidance and, where appropriate, introduce them to professionals who can help them.
A good example of how this collaborative approach works in practice is the way we have worked in partnership with Victim Support’s Homicide Service to help Joan Lawrence.
Joan’s daughter, Claudia, a successful chef, went missing in 2009 and has never been found. Claudia’s case remains an open investigation with North Yorkshire Police, who are now treating it is a murder investigation, which is why Joan’s Police liaison officer put Joan in touch with Victim Support’s Homicide Service. Joan’s case worker at Victim Support, Louise Thomas, is helping to support Joan, but with Claudia’s whereabouts still unknown, there are also practical challenges to deal with and Louise was certain the NBS team could help.
Louise explains: “Usually, the people we support are having to cope with grief and the practical tasks that need to be dealt with after someone has been killed. We have case workers who work with them to support them through their grief but it’s often probate that causes them additional stress and distress when they are already coping with so much.
“When we refer them to the NBS team, we know we are putting them in safe hands. NBS advisors can talk them through the probate process and provide practical guidance or find out answers for them. And if they want legal help to deal with probate, we know that the NBS team will refer them to a specialist professional, who will advise them well and offer a fairly-priced, efficient service.”
With Joan’s case, things are a little different. After 12 years of hoping for her daughter’s return, Joan is keen to keep her daughter’s home and financial affairs in order. This involves being granted permission to make decisions on her daughter’s behalf but, with Claudia not around to grant that permission, Joan was not sure how to gain the necessary legal rights.
“It can be a very lonely place being the parent of someone who is missing.” Says Joan. “Over the years I have developed support networks with people in a similar situation. I’ve focused a lot of effort on keeping Claudia’s case in the media for more than a decade, in case it prompts a lead, and I’ve also channelled my energies into helping others so that something positive can come out of Claudia’s disappearance.
“Sometimes though, I do need help myself, and the way that Victim Support and The NBS have worked together to support me has been brilliant.”
When it became clear to Louise that handling Claudia’s financial and domestic affairs was becoming a difficult and stressful process for Joan, she put Joan in touch with the NBS team and we advised her that the best way forward would be a Guardianship Order.
Jean Watkins, head of bereavement at The NBS explains: “In a situation where the owner of assets, such as a house or money in a bank account, is not available to manage their assets themselves or grant power of attorney, there is no automatic right for a parent, spouse or next of kin to take control. Instead, the person stepping forward to manage those assets has to apply to the court for guardianship, and this can be a complex and lengthy process. Our role is to help Joan understand the process and connect her with professionals that can give her a reliable and affordable legal service.”
A Guardianship Order is the most appropriate option for people like Joan because it legally acknowledges the need for someone else to take charge of Claudia’s affairs but, unlike probate, does not pass ownership of Claudia’s assets on to others.
Joan continues: “It was brilliant to be able to talk to someone who was sensitive to how stressful and upsetting it is to be in the position of taking responsibility for Claudia’s home and finances while keeping everything the way she would want it.
“Jean has been patient and sympathetic and has been able to put me in touch with a solicitor to advise on a Guardianship Order, so that I can concentrate on the work I’m doing to help others in a similar situation to mine.
“So many people are desperate for someone to talk to, who can empathise with their situation and listen. I’ve gained that from Victim Support and The NBS and it’s brilliant that they have been able to work together to help me.”