Since 2015 we have been examining the factors – and unpicking the myths – that lead local authorities to form exclusive relationships with heir hunters. In the course of our investigation, we have gathered ample evidence that these local monopolies encourage excessive fees and can sometimes even result in intestate estates being wrongly distributed.
For most of England and Wales, Government policy is that when someone dies intestate, with no known next of kin, the estate should be referred to the Bona Vacantia Division “as soon as possible aſter death”. However, some intestacies cannot be referred to – either because the value of the estate is below £500, or there is good reason to believe that relatives exist.
In these cases, we recommend that councils advertise intestacy details on their own websites, in a similar way to the unclaimed estates list. Alternatively, they can encourage competition and prevent abuse by referring each case to a number of genealogists concurrently.
We have devised a simple, practical model for this:
When you scrap competition, who foots the bill?
- The practice of providing information to heir hunters on an exclusive basis has a number of unintended consequences. In this article we focus on the issue of excessive charges.
- The case for competition: transparency leads to better research. When local authorities refer cases to heir hunters on an exclusive basis they may risk adversely affecting the quality of research conducted, as this article explains.
- When councils pass heir hunters exclusive leads. In this article we look at yet another case that illustrates the problems caused when competition is circumvented.
In 2016 we launched our campaign against double charging for birth, marriage and death certificates.
- Double charging: unethical, unjustifiable and rife explains why we believe the practice is unlawful.
- An update to our campaign against double charging reports on the successes we have had in raising awareness of the issue within the legal community.
- Double charging: heir hunters continue to defend unethical practice analyses and refutes the flawed logic of an heir hunter who defends double charging.
- Judge orders refund of unfair charges reports on a claim we brought against an heir hunter, which we hope signals the beginning of the end for double charging.
A Better Approach to Empty Homes Work: the Panel of Three
Here we present a practical model for establishing and managing a panel of three genealogical research firms that will support the local authority’s goals while protecting next of kin from being overcharged or overlooked in cases that involve intestacy.
Assisting Local Authorities to Solve Empty Homes Cases
When it comes to empty homes work, local authorities require all relevant cases to be solved – not just those that may prove lucrative for an heir hunter.
In seeking to achieve this goal, many authorities form exclusive relationships with a tracing agent, who undertakes to handle every case, whatever its value. Unfortunately, as our research shows, these relationships are opaque, anti-competitive and tend to adversely affect any beneficiaries that the heir hunter might find.
However, there is a simple method that will inject both competition and a degree of transparency into the council/heir hunter relationship, as this briefing note explains.
Transparency ensures that competition arises whenever it is needed
Researchers are alert to the clues that suggest that a case will result in a finder’s fee.
If, for example, Company C is mandated to find the owner of a house on which council tax is being paid, or a current council tax exemption applies, Companies A and B will probably leave the case to A because the owner clearly knows of the asset.
If, however, the mandated company receives a referral for a property that is not registered and no council tax is being paid the non-mandated companies will almost certainly decide that the case is potentially lucrative and will investigate.
There are only four prerequisites to ensure that the panel works fairly for the council, the heir hunters and any beneficiaries of an intestacy that might be involved:
- Cases are mandated in strict rotation (A, B, C, A, B, C …).
- Every email referral makes it clear which of the three companies is mandated.
- Every email referral is sent to all three companies simultaneously.
- Every email referral contains information about house registration and council tax payments, as well as any other relevant details that the council is aware of.
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Why have we contacted you?
If we have contacted you it is because we believe you are entitled to a share of an inheritance. You may wish to take legal advice, but do get back to us as soon as you can.
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