Freedom of Information Request

Heir Hunters

Received: 10 July 2020

This request follows on from our previous research into local authority practices, approaches and procedures around making referrals to heir hunting companies. We are seeking to understand how a greater understanding of the risks and consequences of making referrals may have influenced local authorities to improve their practices and lead to better outcomes for any next of kin that are located.
1. Our previous research tells us that there are a number of ways that heir hunters can obtain leads from local authorities. Since March 2019, have any referrals have been made to a heir hunter to locate next of kin by the following:
a) The local authority's public health funeral or equivalent team
b) The local authority's client finance, deputyship/appointeeship or equivalent team
c) The local authority's empty homes or equivalent team
d) Any other team, department or individual at the local authority?
2. If deceased estates are published as soon as the property and assets are secured, then heir hunters are able to compete for the case, resulting in next of kin having the option to attend the funeral, speedy resolution of the estate and fair fees for next of kin. Does the local authority:
a) publish an online list of public health funerals or intestacies?
b) publish sufficient data to allow heir hunters to research the case?
c) update their published list at regular intervals so that the data is accurate?
d) update their published lists at the earliest opportunity, as soon as the property and assets are secured and prior to any funeral?
3. We would like to understand if there has been an increase in people dying intestate during the Covid-19 lock down. In total, how many people died intestate in the local authority's area:
a) during March, April and May of this year?
b) during March, April and May of 2019?
4. During the Covid-19 lock down, has the local authority:
a) changed the way they operate in relation to intestacies and public health funerals?
b) increased use of genealogical firms to trace next of kin of deceased persons?
c) started use of genealogical firms to trace next of kin of deceased persons?
5. Please provide copies of any internal guidance, instructions or policies issued since March this year which relate to deaths in the community/pubic health funeral procedures in the context of Covid-19/lock down. 6. Does the local authority consider that heir hunting/genealogy companies:
a) operate honestly and transparently?
b) act responsibly towards next of kin when encouraging them to enter a contract?
c) charge fairly, even when there is no competition because no other companies are aware of the case?
7. Briefly, what is the local authority's perception of heir hunting companies?
8. When local authorities stop using heir hunters, this may be an active choice to change their approach long term or or it may simply be a short term circumstantial change. If no referrals have been made since March 2019, is this because:
a) in all cases, the next of kin were able to be located by local authority staff without the assistance of a heir hunter
b) cases where next of kin could not be located by local authority staff were referred to the Bona Vacantia division of the Government Legal Department ?
9. We would like to encourage local authorities to develop or adopt good practices which are not anti-competitive or detrimental to next of kin. If the local authority does not make referrals to heir hunters or has recently stopped making referrals to heir hunters, please:
a) provide the reasons for this, including any records or documentation relating to the decision-making process
b) provide any policy or procedure documents which illustrate your best practice approach.

Outcome / Documents

  • Response (some exempt) - application/pdf - Download

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