Financial abuse, also called economic abuse, goes largely unnoticed by society. It is a silent abuse and hard to spot in our friends, relatives, and colleagues. Yet so many adults across the UK have been victims of financial abuse. Refuge reported that nearly 2 out of 5 adults, which translates to around 20 million people, have experienced financially abusive behaviour in a current or previous relationship. Financial abuse can happen by anyone and towards anyone. Family members, romantic partners, friends, or carers can be the perpatrators. It is an abuse that is difficult to spot as it often starts small and builds to more controlling behaviour over time.
Victims often don’t know they are being financially abused, perhaps partly because there is little discourse surrounding towards this kind of abuse. We are not taught the warning signs of when a person is being financially abused, and if we were to spot them, many of us wouldn’t know how to help and support the victims. Economic abuse was not recognised in the legal system until the government passed The Domestic Abuse Act in 2021. This legislative change recognised economic abuse and included it within the legal definition of domestic abuse. This was a monumental step towards protecting victims and holding perpetrators’ coercive and controlling behaviours accountable.
What is financial abuse?
Financial abuse has previously been defined as a violation of an individual’s rights relating to their financial affairs or assets. Simply, it is controlling someone’s ability to earn, use and maintain their money. Financial abuse can range from having money stolen from you or being coerced into taking out debt in your name. Additionally, it could be as subtle as having someone question and force you to justify every purchase you make on a weekly shop. Financial abuse can take the form of preventing someone the ability to get an education or employment and therefore preventing them from the opportunity to make their own money and forcing them to maintain dependence.
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, OBE and founder of the charity Surviving Economic Abuse, spoke on this element of financial abuse. She writes, “An abuser may interfere with their partner’s ability to work from home by refusing to share childcare, or preventing them from accessing the equipment they need, such as a laptop or phone.” The commonplace example that society has become acquainted with is the financial abuse of relatives preying on the finances of older relatives. The reality is that it is 20 million adults that are and have experienced this abuse, indiscriminate of age, race, gender, or societal and cultural factors.
How to spot it:
Although they can be challenging to recognise, there are many red flags and indicators of financial abuse to recognise in yourself and others:
- Being stopped from spending your finances and being told how to spend your own money.
- Being coerced into transferring funds (savings, wages, or assets) into another bank account.
- One partner assuming control over a joint bank account and spending because they are ‘better with money’.
- Being asked to sign into new loans and mortgages without knowing precisely what you are signing up too
- Having debt taken out in your name and being left to pay it off. This is a common occurrence within instances of financial abuse. 6 in 10 victims of financial abuse have been manipulated into taking out debts which have been left to them to repay over a long duration and have negatively impacted their credit ratings.
- Hearing yourself or someone else say, ‘They won’t let me spend money on that’ when making purchasing decisions.
- Not having access to personal or joint bank accounts by having personal details such as PINs withheld.
- Receiving a budget or spending allowance rather than having access to your entire personal finances.
- Experiencing discouragement from working or manipulated into leaving a job.
How to stop it:
There are many more signs of financial abuse, and many of them go unnoticed. It is a crime often committed behind closed doors by a perpetrator trusted by the victim. Financial abuse can be an isolated form of abuse but also is present and prevalent in 90% of domestic violence situations. Knowing how to help and support individuals, you suspect are suffering financial abuse can be difficult. People may not want to get involved in ‘other people’s business’ because they are worried they are wrong. However, if you suspect that you, or someone you know, is suffering from financial abuse, it is better to get it wrong than do nothing. Here are some things you can do if you notice any signs of financial abuse:
- Offer support by letting them know you are there for them. Let the person in your life know they can come to you and that you are concerned.
- Believe them. If someone comes to you and believes they are victims of financial abuse, believe them. This will validate their experience and what they have been through. They may feel more comfortable leaving the situation knowing other people believe them.
- Provide practical help and support. This could be as little as providing them with essential items they may have been unable to purchase. If you can, offer a spare room for them to stay in while removing themselves from the situation.
- Be a ‘safe space’ for the person. Don’t try and push them to leave the situation or person immediately. Trying to force them into a decision they are not ready for or criticising the perpetrator may put the victim at greater risk. They may isolate them from you, pushing them closer to the perpetrator.
- Recommend helplines and support services. This resource is there for people suffering from financial abuse. Below are charities you can reach out to for support.
Financial Support Line 0808 1968845
The Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000247