Financial and economic abuse can happen to anyone, so it’s vital to be able to spot the warning signs and seek help if you think you might be a victim or know someone who is.
Economic abuse was formally recognised and defined for the first time in the new Domestic Abuse Act which was passed in April this year. It involves money being used to control someone, either by preventing them from buying the things they need, or by limiting access to their cash, or controlling the way they spend it.
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, founder and chief executive of charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) said: “Economic abuse can happen to anyone, at any life stage. For so many victim-survivors of economic abuse, abusers’ actions will have lifelong consequences, not only preventing them from leaving but jeopardizing their life chances and future financial wellbeing.”
There were nearly 34,000 cases of coercive control recorded by police in the year to March, up 37% compared the year before. Coercive control includes financial abuse, where the abuser uses money to control their partner. However, there are fears that cases of financial abuse, particularly among older people, could increase further if proposed changes to UK law risk go ahead, according to a report in the British Medical Journal. Law Commission proposals suggest modernising marriage laws; whilst the Ministry of Justice proposes modernising lasting powers of attorney, with the aim of making both simpler and easier. Although some safeguards will be in place, experts claim that the new measures could make it easier for older vulnerable people to be financially abused and coerced into powers of attorney or marriage.
Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown said: “Domestic abuse doesn’t always involve the kind of drama we’ve come to expect from soap opera storylines. Sometimes it’s a slow and steady escalation of behaviour that makes it difficult to spot, both when you’re in a relationship, and when you’re looking out for your friends and family. Financial abuse can be eating away at someone’s mental and financial resilience, without anyone realising what’s going on, so we all need to know the signs.”
Five signs of financial abuse
There are several signs to watch out for if you think you might be a victim of financial abuse, or you might know someone who is.
1) Your partner or someone else close to you wants to take control of your bank account and manage your money on your behalf
2) You have to ask for money to cover household expenses
3) You don’t know what is going on financially, because your abuser withholds information about money matters
4) You are forced to hand over your salary or any benefits you receive
5) You’re given a strict spending budget which you have had no say in
Of course, there are plenty of other ways you might end up being financially controlled and abused, but if someone else has taken charge of your money without your input, this is a clear indicator that something is wrong.
Where to go for help
If you are being financially controlled by someone or are subject to coercive behaviour, seek help.
Financial abuse can often lead to other types of abuse, so if you are in immediate danger all the police on 999. If you are not in immediate danger but are worried about about your safety, you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. This is a confidential, 24-hour service run by Refuge.
For financial support if you’re a victim of economic abuse, you can contact the Financial Support Line on 0808 1968845 (Monday to Thursday, 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm). The Line is run in partnership between Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) and Money Advice Plus and calls are free of charge.
The Surviving Economic Abuse website has lots of useful information on what to do if you need help, or if you’re supporting someone who’s a victim of financial abuse.