The police recorded 910,980 domestic abuse-related crimes in the year to March 2022 – up 7.7% in a year. 85% of domestic partner abuse is non-violent, and of this 69% is emotional or financial abuse.
Our research shows 11% of people have been a victim of financial abuse. This rises to 15% of those aged 18-34, and 17% of those with children living at home.
Only 8% of us think a friend may have been a victim, and 6% think a family member has: 72% say they don’t know anyone who has faced financial abuse.
HL data from a survey of 2,000 people by Opinium in September 2022. Domestic abuse data released Friday 25 November: Domestic abuse in England and Wales overview: November 2022 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk):
Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown said: “When life is impossibly expensive, it’s not a surprise to see a rise in financial abuse. And to make matters worse, those same rising bills and rents make it even more difficult for victims to leave. It means we all need to know how to spot if someone is going through this, and understand how to help our loved ones if they’re suffering.
“Domestic abuse isn’t always the stuff of soap operas. Most of it is a far more subtle and gradual grinding down of the victim, either emotionally or financially – or both. It can be difficult to realise what’s happening to you when you’re going through it, let alone from outside, so it’s no surprise that the vast majority of people don’t think they know anyone who has been through it. Given that more than one in ten people have been a victim at some stage in their life, it means an awful lot of suffering behind closed doors.
“Rising prices give abusers another tool for coercive control: a survey by Women’s Aid found that two thirds of abusers were using rising prices this way. They might try to make your situation worse by running appliances unnecessarily to hike bills in your name, or refuse to let you go out or do any of the things you enjoy – while they carry on spending as usual. They might take away things they have decided are too expensive – like your mobile phone. Or they may simply blame you for the problem, constantly telling you it’s your fault for spending money before the crisis hit.
“It can be difficult for people to understand why victims put up with the abuse, but it’s easy to feel like you have no choice. It often comes alongside other forms of emotional or physical abuse, so it can feel too dangerous to stand your ground. For those who push back, the abuser will ensure that the consequences are bad enough to stop you doing so again. Often the only option is to leave – and this can be incredibly difficult too. Not only is there the fear of reprisals, but also the fact that financial abuse will often leave you without money, so you don’t feel able to leave.
“An abuser can make sure you leave with no money and no job. They can deplete any savings you had and run up debts in your name, so you have a huge battle to get back to zero – let alone to have the financial strength to start again. When you try to take that step, higher rental charges and runaway bills can make it impossible to find a place of your own, so you feel trapped in a toxic relationship. According to Women’s Aid, three quarters of victims either said they couldn’t leave because of rising costs – or they found it much more difficult.
“If you claim Universal Credit, this creates an added problem, because usually couples who live together will make a claim as a couple and the money will be paid into one bank account. You can request the money to be split and paid into more than one account in special circumstances, however, in cases of coercive control, it isn’t always possible to make this request.
“It means that anyone facing abuse needs all the help they can get – both from professionals and from those who love them. It comes in all sorts of different guises, so it’s worth understanding exactly what it entails. And because victims may feel ashamed of what’s happened to them, or too afraid to talk about it, we need to know how to spot the signs, so we can step in when we need to.
What is financial abuse?
This comes in many forms, but here are a few examples:
- Stopping you from studying or working
- By contrast, forcing you to work longer hours or more jobs while they refuse to work
- Demanding that all assets are held in their name
- Making sure all bills and debts are in your name
- Insisting you hand over your salary to them
- Taking control of your bank account
- Forcing you to ask for money for household expenses
- Insisting on seeing receipts for every expense
- Paying a household allowance that forces you into hardship
- Not allowing you to spend money on yourself or your children
- Paying for things and expecting something in return
- Denying access to information about the household finances
- Stealing money from you
- Destroying your belongings
- Controlling your use of your property – like a mobile phone or car
- Withholding child maintenance payments
Who can help?
The police: If you feel in danger, call 999. Even if you plan to leave without the help of the police, they can support you later. They can take legal action to force your partner to leave your home, and stay away. If you have been forced to flee without your belongings, they can come home with you to fetch essential items.
A solicitor: If you have the money, this can be incredibly valuable, because they will push to ensure your rights are upheld and can establish court orders to keep you safe. If you cannot afford legal help, you may qualify for legal aid. Otherwise, you may be able to get support from charities.
Helplines: The National Domestic Abuse Helpline run by Refuge (0808 2000 247) will be able to explain the help on offer – from housing to financial or legal advice. The Financial Support Line for Victims of Domestic abuse is run by Money Advice Plus on 0800 196 8843.
Steps to take if you’re considering leaving
Sometimes it’s impossible, but if you can make any preparations it will help. If it’s possible, try to gain a picture of your finances, any joint accounts and any debts in your name. It can also make things far less stressful if you have key financial documents.
It may be too difficult right now, but if you can, try to save a small emergency fund, and possibly get a family member or friend to look after it for you. If you’re concerned that this will put you at risk, it’s much more important to stay safe.
Try to find a safe place to go. Speak to family and friends. People can feel so humiliated to find themselves in this position that they don’t reach out for help, but they may offer a place to stay while you get your life back together. If they can’t help, domestic abuse charities may be able to find you space in a refuge.
Track down local support. There’s a really useful directory on the Women’s Aid website: Women’s Aid Directory – Women’s Aid (womensaid.org.uk)
Signs someone may be a victim
- They might have started spending less. Clearly there are all sorts of reasons why someone may be cutting back at the moment, so you’re looking for someone spending less when you know they have enough money, or doing so when their partner is spending as they like. They might refuse to come out when it involves spending money, or they may clearly be going without things they need – like winter clothes. If this is happening, it’s difficult to bring up, but it’s vital to ask why.
- They might have changed their working or studying patterns. There are plenty of reasons for this, and a lot of people are working overtime and extra jobs at the moment, so you may need to bite the bullet and ask whether there’s anything wrong. Similarly, if they stop work or their studies, this may be an indication they are being coercively controlled – particularly if they can’t really explain why.
- You may notice a change in their attitude. They may be anxious around things that involve money, or they might start talking about having to ask permission before spending, or not being allowed to. Again, plenty of people are anxious about money right now, but don’t assume this is just the result of rising prices without checking.
- They may seem in the dark about their own finances. Sometimes everyone will lose track of exactly where they stand, but if it seems their partner controls all the finances, has all the money paid into their account, refuses to reveal how much money or debt they have, or makes all the decisions, then any of these things are worth asking about.
- They may withdraw from you. An abuser will deliberately cut their victim off from any support. If someone stops getting in touch, or stops coming out, don’t take it personally: check they’re OK.