In the Netherlands people rarely go missing without ever knowing what happened to them. However, the impact is huge when it does happen. Zwitserleven and Reaal experienced it last year. It made us realise that sharing information and tips on the subject of missing persons is very valuable. Most of all for someone who is trying to come to terms with the fact that a loved one has gone missing. To help with practical matters at a very difficult time. But also for employees of companies, institutions and the government who receive questions from those who are left behind. Hopefully, more knowledge will contribute to more empathy and understanding. And perhaps it inspires companies and institutions to provide better and quicker solutions for the problems faced by those who are left behind.
The importance of acting quickly and thoughtfully
When someone is suspected to have gone missing, action must be taken immediately. The earlier a search is started, the more likely it is that the missing person will be found in good health. Every year, approximately 16,000 people go missing in the Netherlands. Fortunately, in about 80% of reported disappearances, the missing person can be located within 2 days. And in 90% of cases within one week. That is why the police and various emergency services are sometimes reluctant to take immediate action.
Long-term missing persons
Hundreds of people a year are still missing after a week. The police will usually have stopped the active search by then. This is because the chances of the person still being around will become increasingly smaller. Contact your life insurers and pension funds and ask for special treatment and a designated contact to start a provisional benefit payment process.Some pension funds and life insurers already have a special policy in case for missing persons. The Dutch Association of Insurers advises its members (insurers) to set up a separate team when they are contacted by people who are left behind. On a case-by-case basis, a (temporary) solution can usually be found fairly easily.
Dead body found within a year
If the missing person is found dead, then the odd situation arises where the person is considered to have died on the date when the body was found. In practice, finding a missing person’s body within a year often results in rejection of the claim or a lower benefit.
The date when the body is found will be recorded in a police report and also entered by the municipality in its Personal Records Database (BRP). The BPR provides important information to pension funds and life insurers. Including the date of death. Life insurers, funeral insurers and pension funds often base the entitlement to benefits on the date of death as recorded in the BRP. However, that date will never be recorded with retroactive effect in this type of situations. It is not the presumed date of death but rather the date when the missing person’s body was found that will be recorded. In many cases, by that date the missing person's employment contract will have been terminated or insurance policies will have been terminated because of premium payment arrears or benefits will have been reduced because a certain amount of time has passed.
Zwitserleven and Reaal dealt with a few of those situations in 2014. We are willing to use the date of presumed death in these situations if it is known or can be estimated. When asked, other insurers seem to have adopted the same policy.
The role of the police and emergency services
As soon as someone is suspected to have gone missing, the police must be notified as soon as possible. They will first check whether this is indeed a missing person’s case, then assign a certain category and make a choice between the following three responses:
- Wait and see if the situation does not (yet) appear to be serious
- Register and distribute the report
- Take immediate action
What the people who are left behind can do
Ask the police, even if they do not act immediately, what you can do. This will often depend on the time that has passed since the person went missing and how he or she went missing. Make sure you can easily be reached at all times. Avoid long phone calls or use another (mobile) phone to keep your own device free for incoming calls. In your absence, make sure that someone is in the house to answer phone calls or forward calls to another number or set up an answering machine.