More than one in seven people in the UK (16%) identify as having experienced economic abuse in their current or former relationship – 24% of which said current online banking systems made them more vulnerable to perpetrators.
One in 10 people who experienced economic abuse said their partner used online banking to take money from their accounts and monitor their spending without their consent.
However, 15% of survivors thought that online banking had helped them escape their abusive partner.
According to research from Refuge and The Co-operative Bank as part of the Know Economic Abuse campaign, a significant proportion of people who experience economic abuse have identified that current online banking systems made them more vulnerable to abuse. Responding to this evidence, Refuge and The Co-operative have joined together with representatives from the banking sector, domestic abuse organisations, parliamentarians and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to review the impact of online and digital banking on survivors of economic abuse and produce recommendations for change. Approximately 16% of all UK adults identify as having experienced economic abuse from a current or former partner. This is equivalent to 8.7 million people across the UK. For those who have experienced economic abuse, one in four (24%) said online banking made them more vulnerable to this form of abuse.
Online and digital banking were commonly used by perpetrators to closely track their partner’s accounts and spending, with 12% of survivors saying that their partner surveilled their bank accounts using online banking. In one in 10 cases (9%), perpetrators set up text alerts when their partner spent a certain amount from a joint or personal bank account, and a similar number used online banking to closely monitor online shopping. Nearly one in 10 survivors had also seen their partner take money out of their account using an online banking app without the survivor’s permission.
However, online banking can also play a vital role in supporting survivors of economic abuse to flee their abusers. In 15% of cases, online banking was instrumental in survivors being able to escape their perpetrator. However, its potential to support survivors to escape abuse is relatively underexplored at present and warrants further investigation.
This newly launched Commission on Online Banking, chaired by Refuge and The Co-operative Bank, will conduct a collaborative, cross-sector review of online banking practices in order to identify current good practice, and where improvements might be made to better protect those experiencing economic abuse. The group will work to review and discuss the impact of online and digital banking on survivors of economic abuse and to collectively produce recommendations for tools and services that better protect and empower survivors.
Members of the Online Banking Commision include:
- Refuge and The Co-operative Bank (co-chairs)
- Surviving Economic Abuse
- Lloyds Banking Group
- Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales
- Maria Miller MP
- Charlotte Nichols MP
- Anonymous survivors of economic abuse.
Ruth Davison, Refuge Chief Executive Officer, said: “Refuge supports women every day who have experienced economic abuse – a form of domestic abuse which is often unrecognised by survivors. It is vital that the banking and financial sector looks at ways to both reduce the risk to women and also supports women who experience this form of domestic abuse.
“While we know that online banking can help women flee abusive partners, we know that it can also be used as a tool of abuse, to monitor finances and to track someone’s whereabouts, prevent them having access to funds – which can be the difference between a woman feeling able to flee her abusive partner or being unable to leave.
“Refuge is hopeful that the Online Banking Commission will enable the financial sector to undertake a thorough review on how online banking impacts survivors of economic abuse and make changes to give women the protection and support they deserve.”
Maria Cearns, Managing Director, People & Customer, The Co-operative Bank, comments: “Online banking has had a significant impact on the financial landscape of the UK and has seen many positive effects, particularly with regard to financial inclusion. We knew that the complexity of economic abuse in the domestic setting would mean that online banking would have undoubtedly had an impact on both the tactics used by abusers and on the subsequent actions of survivors. Our 2020 study paints a complicated picture. While there is evidence of frequent incidences of abusers misusing online banking and digital services to further extend their coercive control over their partners, we also saw that survivors often depended on online banking as a tool to break away from this control. We want to bring the industry together to look at how we can use these findings to make positive changes.”