One in six Brits don't know the signs of financial abuse: Here’s how to spot them

·6-min read
One in six people can't spot the sign of financial abuse, new research has revealed. (Getty Images)
One in six people can't spot the sign of financial abuse, new research has revealed. (Getty Images)

Financial abuse is on the rise, but new research has found one in six Brits would not be able to spot the signs.

Although it may not be as obvious as certain types of abuse in a relationship, using money as a means of control is more common than you may think, but many people aren't sure they would necessarily know it was happening to them.

Financial, or economic, abuse is a type of domestic abuse where someone has power over you and your finances.

Read more: Financial control: 'My wealthy ex-husband left my two children and I homeless’

Research from Refuge's Know Economic Abuse report 2020 found that 16% of British adults say they have 'experienced economic abuse' in a current or past relationship.

However, 39% say they have experienced some kind of economically abusive behaviour from a current or former partner – for example, not being allowed access to a joint bank account, or their partner instilling fear in order to put debt in their name. This disparity in figures suggests far more people than the 16% who self-identified as 'experiencing economic abuse', have suffered it, but do not recognise or label it as such.

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This is echoed in further research from credit management company Lowell who found that many people weren't actually equipped to pick out the signs of financial abuse, with one in six (15%) admitting that they don’t know what to look out for.

When it comes to the different forms of financial abuse, the most common type seems to be being kept in the dark about certain purchases with over half (51%) of respondents mentioning someone spending money without telling them.

Using money as a means of control is abuse. (Getty Images)
Using money as a means of control is abuse. (Getty Images)

Over two-fifths (41%) brought up someone deliberately withholding funds to stop them from seeing other family and friends, and 38% said that their abusive partner kept track of every single thing they buy.

“Economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse whereby a perpetrator uses finances as a means to control their partner or ex-partner," explains Ruth Davison, Chief Executive Officer of Refuge.

"It can involve withholding funds, taking out loans or accruing debt in someone’s name without their consent or knowledge, or restricting someone's ability to work or study.

"The effects of economic abuse can be devastating and long-lasting such as large debts, bad credit ratings, housing problems alongside the impact on physical and mental health. The impacts of economic abuse can continue long after leaving a perpetrator."

Watch: Cost of living crisis: Martin Lewis shares advice for those struggling with debt

Davison predicts the cost of living crisis could cause a rise in financial or economic abuse.

"Refuge is concerned the cost of living crisis is having a catastrophic impact on the women we support," she says. "A recent survey of Refuge frontline workers revealed that 61% of Refuge’s frontline staff surveyed said that the cost of living crisis is creating opportunities for or intensifying economic abuse."

She added that 75% of her Refuge frontline colleagues said that the cost of living crisis means that survivors of domestic abuse needed to use food banks for essentials and 92% reported that the economic crisis is pushing survivors into debt or further debt.

Read more: Gender pension gap: Women need to work extra 18 years to have same pension as men

Natasha Saunders, a campaigner and independent consultant for causes against domestic abuse describes financial abuse as a "crippling pandemic".

"Having your bank accounts monitored, keeping receipts to prove the cost of things, and having vital things such as sanitary products or food withheld is abuse," she explains.

Saunders says these are all things she experienced with her ex-husband, but even though she is seven years free of the financial abuse and has remarried, she is still witnessing the effects.

“My credit score is a joke," she explains. "I have debt from when I was with him because he put my name on the bills and I still feel like I need to justify a purchase or explain an expense to my current husband who always kindly brushes it aside and reminds me he doesn't need to know because I'm my own person."

"The dark cloud of money worries my ex has left me with won't vanish any time soon," she admits. "The lasting legacy of financial abuse cripples many survivors’ lives long after they leave, and some even go back because the step into the unknown is scarier than the devil they know.”

Read more: What to do if you can't pay your bills

Financial abuse can leave sufferers with credit issues and debt. (Getty Images)
Financial abuse can leave sufferers with credit issues and debt. (Getty Images)

Potential signs of financial abuse

It can be difficult to know for sure if what you're experiencing is classed as financial abuse or not, but if you’re in a situation where you don’t feel in control of your finances due to someone else, this may be an indication.

Other signs include:

  • Being asked to prove where you’re spending money and what you have spent it on

  • Telling you how you can, and can’t, spend your money

  • Adding their name to your account, taking control of your accounts, or preventing you from accessing them

  • Leaving you to pay off debt after forcing you to take out credit or getting loans in your name

  • Fraudulently taking out credit in your name, without your knowledge or permission

  • Deliberately withholding funds to stop you from socialising with friends and family

  • Putting all the household bills in your name

  • Stopping you from going to work so that you are financially reliant on them

  • Pressuring you to change your will

Read more: Woman hid £22k of debt from husband: 'I’d lie awake panicking'

If you're worried you may be experiencing any form of financial abuse, here's where to go for support and some steps you can take to protect yourself, as outlined by credit management company Lovell.

  • Speak to a domestic abuse adviser, such as Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is open 24/7, or a specialist charity such as Surviving Economic Abuse.

  • If possible, freeze any joint accounts.

  • See if you can change PIN numbers and other online banking details (i.e. passwords).

  • See what debts or lines of credit you have currently in your name. You can do this via a credit report online – check out our guide to your credit file for more information.

  • Have a safe place to keep important financial documents, with spare copies elsewhere.

  • Government site Moneyhelper has further information and advice about financial abuse, spotting the signs and where to go for help.