Economic abuse: know the signs and where to find support
Struggling Brits in economically abusive relationships owe a more than £14 billion of debt.
Research by the Co-Operative Bank and Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, shows 8.7 million people across Britain report experiencing economic abuse – with 1.6 million stating it is a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
On average, a survivor of economic abuse who found themselves in debt will owe £3,272 – however one in four survivors have debts over £5,000 – representing £14.4 billion of UK debt.
But what is economic abuse? What signs should we look out for and where can we find support?
Here we offer guidance and advice about what to do if you’re concerned for yourself or a loved one.
What is economic abuse?
Everyone has the right to financial independence.
If anyone is controlling your money or running up debts in your name, it is abuse and it’s a crime.
Economic abuse can take different forms and it will look different in different situations.
This type of abuse isn’t just confined to those in a relationship. A partner, carer, friend, or family member can be guilty should they try to control your money.
What are the signs of economic abuse?
It’s important to remember that abuse isn’t just physical or psychological. Abusive economic behaviour can include:
- Taking out credit in your name without permission
- Making you hand over control of any bank accounts
- A person adding their name to your account without your knowledge or permission
- Asking you to change your will
- Cashing cheques or pensions without your permission
- Offering to buy shopping / pay bills with your money but never doing it
The Co-Operative Bank and Refuge study Know Economic Abuse shows that economic abuse most commonly begins early on in a relationship.
However, a survey of Brits highlighted that other key milestones can trigger it – such as moving in together (16%), getting married (12%), or at the point a couple formally joins their finances (8%).
Many people also experience economically abusive behaviour from former partners during and after separation, such as damage or theft of property, or spending money from a joint account without consent (24%).
What impact has COVID-19 had?
Economic abuse is something that 3% of UK adults (1.6 million) have come to know during the pandemic, the report reveals.
Just as the lockdown brought with it an increase in other forms of domestic abuse, Refuge noted a spike in demand for financial advice to it’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline.
One in three of those experienced economic abuse during the crisis for the first time. Many noted this is when their partner became abusive after pay decreased as a result of furlough and lockdown.
The charity has now raised concerns about the impact the end of furlough and widespread redundancies could have on relationships across the country, highlighting concerns that this could give perpetrators more opportunities to abuse and control relationships.
What if someone is controlling benefit payments?
As the nation continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, record numbers of people are turning to Universal Credit and other support payments.
The number of people using the benefit hit 5.7 million in October 2020, according to government figures, which was a 81% increase compared to March of that year.
However, as more people than ever before find themselves struggling with financial abuse as a result of the pandemic, it’s important to be aware of what support is available.
Couples who live together and make a joint application for Universal Credit will typically be paid into one bank account.
When making a claim, a couple will be asked which account they’d like the money paid into. If you have children, you will be advised to have the money go into the account of the main carer. However, if you and your partner don’t agree on an account, the Jobcentre Plus will make the decision for you.
If you’re worried about your partner taking control of your benefit, you should speak to your local Jobcentre Plus. An advisor experienced in offering advice to those in abusive relationships and situations could arrange to have payments split. This would mean that you could get the money for yourself (and children) into your account and your partner could get another payment. This is an option for anyone in exceptional circumstances.
What help is available?
Understandably, for many people talking about abuse of any form isn’t easy.
Figures show that a third of people who experience economic abuse don’t confide in others about their experiences.
When people do open up about their situation, they most commonly share their experience with a friend or family member (45%) with only 15% of people in the study reporting the abuse to their bank or financial services provider. According to the report, only one in four people felt able to report this to their bank because they worried that their bank would not have adequate measures in place to protect them.
However, if you are worried about your finances you should be aware that many banks have adopted the Financial Abuse Code of Practice, which guides and supports customer-services in how to spot and address signs of economic abuse.
Who can you contact?
If you believe that you, or your children, are in immediate danger you should call 999 and ask for the police.
If you can’t talk, call 999 followed by 55 to highlight that you need help but can’t talk.
You can also contact the organisations below for further advice and support:
- England: visit Women’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on 0808 2000 247.
- Wales: visit Welsh Women’s Aid website or call the All-Wales 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
- Northern Ireland: visit Women’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 802 1414.
- Scotland: visit Scottish Women’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0800 027 1234.
Visit the website for information and live chat services or call the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
Men’s Advice Line
Visit the website or call Freephone 0808 8010327.
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline
Visit the website for information and live chat services, call 0800 999 5428 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Where can you access money in an emergency?
The Money Advice Service offers a full guide to support for people living with economic abuse, including information about where to get cash in an emergency.
If you are forced to leave your home in a hurry, you should first contact your local authority to find out what support they can offer.
Help differs across the UK and you should find out what support is offered in your local area.
If you live in England, contact your local council for help.
Those living in Scotland could be eligible for the Scottish Welfare Fund.
People seeking help in Wales could apply for the Discretionary Assistance Fund.
If you live in Northern Ireland you should consider applying for Finance Support.
Worried about debt?
If you’re worried about your finances and economic abuse, support is available.
As one of the UK’s largest debt help companies, we have helped thousands of people find a solution to their debt problems.
Talking about debt isn’t easy and far more difficult when dealing with the emotional turmoil of living with an abusive relationship, that’s why it’s important for us to offer free, confidential and empathetic advice to those in need. Our experienced advisors are on hand to guide you through the process of finding a solution to your situation and offer peace of mind that you’re not alone.
Call 0808 253 5687 or connect via live chat.