top of page

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse refers to control over someone's finances, stealing money, or coercing someone in to debt. Surviving Economic Abuse describes financial abuse as a strand of economic abuse, which refers more broadly to controlling resources such as housing, food, transport and employment. It rarely occurs in isolation, usually there will be other types of abusive behaviour present, however it can be a major barrier to leaving an abusive relationship and can keep someone trapped in a cycle of abuse. Financial abuse can be subtle, for example abusers may offer assistance with paying bills or budgeting which can escalate into full control over finances. It may also be more overt, such as threats of violence and intimidation.

Financial abuse can continue after an individual has left an abuser because, unlike other forms of abuse, it does not rely on physical proximity, particularly if an abuser has control of your finances or has generated debt in your name. The Domestic Abuse Report 2019 by Women's Aid surveyed 72 survivors of domestic abuse and found that 31.9% of respondents reported that their access to money was controlled by their abuser during the relationship, and 43.1% of respondents said they were in debt as a result of the abuse.

Examples of financial abuse:

  • Controlling shared assets and resources. Abusers may make large financial decisions without your input, force you to sign financial documents without explanation, withhold account numbers, passwords or investment information, or insist joint purchases such as car loans or mortgages be in their name only. They may control how you spend by reducing your freedom to plan or budget, require you to account for every time you spend money, or withhold money from you through the form of restricted allowances or requiring you to ask for money. In times of conflict, they may use this to exert more control by threatening to 'cut you off' financially. There may also be a double standard with shared resources. For example, they may force you to share your income but not share theirs, or hide or take funds by putting them in a private account.

  • Interfering with your income potential. This could be criticising or minimising your job choice or career, pressuring you to quit your job (children may be used as an excuse), controlling where you can and cannot work, interfering with opportunities to progress in your career, harassing you at work, or preventing you from working by hiding car keys, taking your car without permission, or offering to babysit and then not showing up.

  • Restricted your access to your money, credit cards and financial assets. Abusers may force you to hand over control of your accounts of add their name to your account, they might stop you from having a bank account or credit card altogether, or confiscate your pay check or other sources of income. They might intercept or open your bank statements, or take benefits meant for you, your family or children. This may also be more subtle, for example abusers may offer to buy shopping or pay bills with your money but then misuse the money and not follow through..

  • Generate large bills and debt in your name, or steal from you. Abusers may take out money, loans or get credit in your name without telling you. They may drain you financially by taking money without repayment, cash in your pension or other cheques without your permission, ask you to change your will, or gamble with family assets. They may also require you to bail them out of difficult financial situations. Financial abuse does not necessarily mean taking money, abusers may cripple you financially by dragging out divorce proceedings or refusing to pay child support.

What are the impacts of financial abuse?

Abuse can cause disrupted employment records, ruined credit histories and even legal issues. Without access to money, credit cards and financial assets, it is very difficult to obtain long-term housing, safety and security, and establish independence after leaving an abusive partner. There may also be the added concern that ending an abusive relationship will mean victims are unable to provide financially for their children. As a result, financial insecurity is a key reason why people return to abusive partners. This report by Women's Aid and TUC found that 52% of survey respondents still living with their abuser said that they could not afford to leave, 41% had to use the children's birthday money or savings to buy essentials, 61% were in debt and 37% had a bad credit rating. Financial insecurity traps people in abusive relationships for longer, leaving potential for abuse to escalate and increasing the risk to individual safety.