Help & advice
Financial abuse: how to spot the signs and what to do about it
4 min | 31 October 2022
Domestic and financial abuse often go hand in hand, but the latter is rarely talked about. We explain what financial abuse is, how to recognise it, and where to get help.
It's estimated that one in five women and one in seven men have experienced some form of financial abuse, typically from their partner. So, the chances are you know someone who has been – or still is – a victim.
Most people associate domestic abuse with physical or emotional harm. But financial abuse – also called economic abuse – is nearly always present in domestic abuse cases.
It's not just in relationships either; financial abuse can also happen to pensioners or disabled people through carers. It manifests differently because carers often have permission to do online or physical banking, then can abuse that access by doing things like cashing cheques to themselves or drawing out extra cash for the shopping and pocketing the extra.
What is financial abuse?
Controlling someone’s access to their finances is a type of coercive control that can have a devastating and long-lasting effect. That could be things like:
- withholding money from joint accounts
- one partner having sole say on expenditure
- running up debts in someone else’s name
- hiding bank statements
- stopping a partner from going to work
- stopping a partner from applying for a credit card
Economic abuse is now recognised under UK law as part of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This means it’s a crime and should be reported to police.
While financial abuse normally happens behind closed doors, it is possible to spot the signs and get help. You – or your friend – don’t need to struggle alone.
Everyone has the right to manage their own finances, from earning and spending money to applying for credit cards and writing a will. But if someone takes this freedom away and starts to control a person’s money, that is financial abuse.
This “someone” is normally a partner – but it could also be a friend, relative or carer.
Controlling a person’s finances is a way of having power over them. It could be accompanied by violent behaviour and emotional abuse.
Financial abuse can leave victims with no income, no money for essentials and with debts
build up in their name. More broadly, it can leave the victim feeling isolated and lacking in confidence.
Even after a relationship has ended, financial abuse can continue by controlling child maintenance or alimony payments.
Desk research suggests that victims are more likely to be single parents, people with disabilities and/or on a low income. But another study showed that men who experience financial abuse are much more likely to be higher earners.
Charities who work with survivors are clear that abuse can happen to anyone.
What are the signs of financial abuse?
Financial abuse can take many forms, as all relationships differ. Here are some common warning signs to look for if you suspect you or someone you know might be a victim:
- money withdrawn from victim’s account without their permission, or perhaps they've been coerced into giving permission
- credit card or loan taken out in victim’s name without their permission
- being forced to open a joint account or change a will
- household bills put in victim’s name without their knowledge
- preventing victim from buying essential items
- demanding victim explains whenever they spend money
- hiding bank statements and documents such as passports and birth certificates (making it difficult to apply for jobs or financial products)
- being forbidden from talking to anyone about their finances
How to get help if you know someone who is a victim of financial abuse
If you suspect someone is experiencing financial abuse, it can be tricky to help if they don’t want to talk about it. Offer a listening ear and allow them to make their own decisions. And be ready to support them – by accessing information about the abuse or going to the police.
If you need help for yourself, speak to someone you trust, such as a friend, relative or work colleague.
Remember, you’re not alone. Organisations such as Women's Aid (Opens in new window), Refuge (Opens in new window), Men’s Advice Line (Opens in new window) and the LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline (Opens in new window) give free advice and support. They can help you contact the police and apply for legal aid if needed.
Your bank also has a duty of care to help and may have a specialist team who can assist. You could consider opting out of confirmation of payee to make sure someone can't match your name with your bank or personal details.