Attorney General written question – answered on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

To ask the Attorney General, whether she has made a recent assessment of levels of compliance among local authorities with the guidance issued by the Government Legal Department on the referral to the Bona Vacantia Division of estates of people who have died without (a) known entitled relatives and (b) leaving a will and instead passing the details directly to a single heir hunting firm.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Solicitor-General

The Bona Vacantia Division (BVD) of the Government Legal Department (GLD) deals with the estates of people domiciled in England & Wales who appear to have died without leaving a valid will or relatives entitled to share in their estates in priority to the Crown. Estates which potentially fall to be dealt with as bona vacantia may be referred to BVD by a variety of routes, for example, banks, other financial institutions, solicitors or members of the public.

There is no statutory obligation to refer estates to BVD but guidance on the referral process and the circumstances in which a referral will be accepted are published on BVD’s website ( It is for local authorities to determine whether an estate should be referred to BVD.

In 2017-2018, 2768 estates were referred to BVD of which 909 were referred by local authorities. In 2018-2019, 1971 estates were referred to BVD of which 575 were referred by local authorities.

In 2019-2020, 2336 estates were referred to BVD of which 561 were referred by local authorities

GLD has no responsibility for overseeing local authorities or their compliance with guidance issued by GLD about the handling of estates. Such information – including whether an estate has been referred to the Bona Vacantia Division of GLD, or whether the local authority has instructed an heir hunter – will be held by the particular local authority concerned.

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