Are you affected by financial abuse? What can you do if your partner is controlling over money or abusive?

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Is your husband, wife, partner or civil partner controlling about money? Does he or she try and stop you from spending your money or refuse to pay bills? Does he or she take money out of your joint account without asking? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of these, you may be the victim of financial abuse. Read on to find out what you can do.

Are you affected by financial abuse?

You may not have heard of the phrase ‘financial abuse’, but it refers to stealing or defrauding someone of their money or trying to control them through their finances. Ever since I set up SavvyWoman, I’ve had a steady stream of emails from women with examples of financial abuse.

The abuse can be subtle, such as trying to control your spending (and I don’t mean suggesting you spend less if you spend money you don’t have and get into debt) or, in the worst cases, it can include stealing from you and/or refusing to let you have money you need to live on or access to your own money.

How widespread is financial abuse?

Like all forms of abuse, financial abuse often starts off subtly and the person becomes more controlling and abusive as time goes on. It could start off as ‘concern’ about your ability to manage your money, but soon escalate to control. Or there may be no evidence of the abuse until you break up. At that point, your ex may leave you with debts you can’t pay or run up debts on a joint account, with no intention of paying them off.

In SavvyWoman’s Women and Money report 2015, we asked about financial problems people had as a direct result of a previous relationship. We questioned both women and men and found that:

  • Over one in ten women (11 per cent) said they’ve had to pay off some of their ex partner or ex spouse’s debts. This was the most common financial issue that respondents said they’d experienced as a direct result of a relationship or relationships.
  • Almost one in ten women (nine per cent) said they’d had to pay bills that their ex had agreed to pay.
  • Overall, more women said they’ve had a financial problem, such as paying off their ex’s debts, bills or haven’t received child support, than men. This applied across all age groups, except among the 18 – 34-year olds.
  • Almost one in 16 women (six per cent) and one in 20 men (four per cent) said they didn’t receive child support that their ex agreed to pay.
  • Women aged 35 – 54 were the most likely to say they’ve had a financial problem as a direct result of a past relationship. One in seven (14 per cent) said they’ve paid off some of their ex’s debts and one in eight (12 per cent) have paid bills their ex promised to pay.
  • There was the biggest gender difference in the 55+ age group. One in ten women (ten per cent) have paid off some of their ex partner’s debts (compared to six per cent of men) and eight per cent of women have paid bills their ex promised to pay, compared to just three per cent of men.
  • Overall, more women than men reported having a financial problem as a direct result of the break up of their relationship. The most common problem identified was that of having to pay off some of an ex’s debts; which more than one in ten women say they have experienced. This rose to 14 per cent among women aged 35 – 54.
Meanwhile, a survey by Citizens Advice showed that 90% of its advisers have helped people who’ve experienced financial abuse. And a report by the Co-op Bank and the charity Refuge found that one in five adults has experienced financial abuse in a relationship.

Examples of financial abuse

Citizens Advice found that most common types of financial abuse that advisers had encountered were:
  • the abusing partner not contributing to joint bills
  • the abusing partner getting the victim to take out credit (73% of advisers had seen this)
  • the abusing partner using all the joint money and property
  • the abusing partner controlling access to the victim’s money – including income, banking and/or savings
  • the abusing partner controlling or interfering with the victim’s benefits.

Citizens Advice said that 42% of those who responded had seen examples where one partner or family member had transferred a bill or a debt to someone else. 43% had seen cases where the perpetrator stole from the victim and 18% had seen cases where the perpetrator damaged the victim’s property.

Financial abuse can happen in relationships that are otherwise stable and secure. Although the fact that abuse is occurring can mean that the relationship then breaks down. However, it can also be carried out alongside other forms of abuse or after a relationship has broken down.

What can you do if you’re a victim of financial abuse?

For a start, recognise what you’re experiencing as abuse. It can be hard to admit that your partner or another family member is being abusive, and in some ways it can be harder if that abuse is financial rather than physical. But although financial abuse doesn’t result in physical damage, its effects can be traumatic. And — sadly — financial and physical or emotional abuse can go hand in hand.

Will your bank help?

Your bank should help you, but research we carried out showed that not all banks have trained their staff to do this. We carried out some research in the summer of 2016 and found that Barclays and Nationwide said they did not have any staff trained to recognise that customers were suffering from financial abuse or to help those who said they were.

We asked: Do you have any staff trained in what to do in situations where there’s been financial abuse and do you have any procedures in place if you have been alerted to the fact that one partner is being financially controlled/abused or coerced by the other?

We contacted NatWest, Lloyds, Halifax, Bank of Scotland, RBS, Santander, Barclays, HSBC and Nationwide. Barclays and Nationwide said they didn’t have any specific procedures in place.

Who can help you if you’re a victim of financial abuse?

There are a number of organisations that can help you. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem or hope it will get better. I’m not an expert in abuse in relationships, but my understanding is that it rarely improves and often gets worse.

Since December 29th 2015, ‘coercive or controlling behaviour’ has become an offence under the Serious Crimes Act 2015. The new law says that someone has committed an offence if they ‘repeatedly or continuously’ engage in behaviour towards another person that’s controlling or coercive.

The behaviour has to have a serious effect on the person who’s being controlled or coerced and the person doing the abuse will know or should know that their behaviour will affect the other person. If you believe you’re the victim of coercive or controlling behaviour, contact the Police. If you’d prefer to speak to a domestic abuse organisation, there are contact details below.

Contact one or more of these organisations:

Citizens Advice: They can give you help and advice with your finances, your rights to your home and benefits. Contact Citizens Advice in England and Wales, Citizens Advice in Scotland or Citizens Advice in Northern Ireland.

Refuge is a national charity helping victims of domestic abuse and campaigning to end it. It has a 24-hour telephone helpline number of 0808 2000 247.

Women’s Aid is a charity working to end domestic violence. It uses the same telephone number as Refuge — 0808 2000 247.

Men’s Advice Line 0808 801 0327

Related articles:

SavvyWoman Podcast: Economic abuse – what banks need to do

Over half of adults don’t know who’s responsible for debts on joint accounts

What your bank should do if you have a joint account and split up – and why it may not

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