Financial Abuse is on the rise

Wednesday 12 December, 2018 Mental Health

The term “domestic abuse” conjures many different images for people, and for most it is an immediate connection to physical violence. While physical violence is experienced by many victims, sexual, emotional and mental abuse are just as prevalent. Indeed, many debtors from all walks of life fall victim to some form of abusive behaviour.

What is Financial abuse?

A form of abuse that many victims experience is one that has been overlooked historically; namely economic or financial abuse. Financial abuse can be defined as the control that one partner holds over the other economically. It can involve:

  • insisting the victim hands over their employment earnings
  • removing access to the household finances,
  • forcing the victim to take out credit in their name.

This latter is known as coerced debt and is something many victims of domestic abuse experience at some time. One academic study of 103 domestic abuse victims reported that as many as 99% of respondents experienced some form of economic abuse.

Citizens Advice reported in 2015 that only 2 in 5 victims recognised this as a form of abuse, however, showing how little awareness still exists in this area. Coerced debt is becoming more prevalent and 75% of those who took part in the survey reported that they had been coerced into applying for credit by their abuser.

Why is it so serious?

Katie Ghose, of Women’s Aid states “Economic abuse has a long-lasting, devastating effect. Many victims report that it impacts on their ability to leave the abuser, and that when they do build up the courage to leave, some are left without a home and with nothing but the clothes on their back,”.

Most victims of financial abuse don’t believe there is a way out and even if they manage to escape their abusive relationship, they struggle to start afresh because their credit rating is poor, and they are unable to secure accommodation or new credit. Many abusers control their victims in this manner, making them feel that they could not survive without them.

What is being done to tackle financial abuse?

The financial services industry is responding to the growing awareness of financial abuse and is stepping up its efforts to identify and support victims, so much so it is soon to be formally identified as a form of domestic abuse in the Government’s upcoming domestic abuse bill.

In league with Co-op Bank, Women’s Aid is calling on the financial services industry to adhere to a new voluntary code of practice that aims to support victims and treat them in a more compassionate way.

The code calls on firms to identify and raise awareness of financial abuse:

  • to train in-house staff on how to deal with victims;
  • to offer victims appropriate help, such as putting them in touch with the police, for example; and
  • to help victims take back control of their personal finances by closing down joint accounts or cancelling accounts with creditors.

Where can I get help?

There are a lot of great support networks out there to help victims of domestic abuse and you can seek help or advice from the free and confidential helplines below.

  • For women, call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Freephone helpline on 0808 2000 247
  • For men, call the Men’s Advice line on 0808 801 0327

Or visit