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

The government has announced a new drive to help businesses recognise when people are being financially controlled by a partner.

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)

The government has announced a new drive to help businesses spot the signs of financial abuse.

HMRC staff, among others, are being trained to pick up indications that people are being controlled economically by partners - for example being forced to take out loans or hand over wages.

It comes as stats reveal 95% of women who experience domestic abuse also report experiencing economic abuse.

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 aren't sure they would necessarily know it was happening to them.

What is financial abuse?

Financial, or economic, abuse is a type of domestic abuse where someone has power over you and your finances and it is on the rise, with charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), reporting a 150% increase in its website user numbers over the past two years.

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.

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

Read more: Financial control: 'My wealthy ex-husband left my two children and I homeless’, Yahoo Life UK, 6-min read

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.

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 seems to be being kept in the dark about certain purchases with over half (51%) of respondents mentioning someone spending money without telling them.

Watch: Woman reveals alleged domestic abuse and sexual violence by police officer ex-husband after David Carrick arrest

Over two-fifths (41%) report 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."

Read more: I suffered financial abuse – my husband would get angry if I even spent £1.50, Yahoo Life UK, 7-min read

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', Yahoo Life UK , 8-min read

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.