Domestic abuse victims are often coerced into debt, warns charity

Financial abuse survivors are left with average ‘coerced’ debt of £4,600 and need help relearning basic money skills like using a bank card, according to a charity.

Some 83 per cent of those affected have low financial knowledge and confidence, because a common tactic of abusers is to ‘de-skill’ a victim so they are unable to make independent financial decisions, its research shows.

The organisation Surviving Economic Abuse says victims and survivors are left with long-lasting harm. 

It called on the Government to prioritise economic safety and place it at the heart of a new domestic abuse strategy due to be published soon.

Long-lasting harm: Forcing or coercing someone into debt is a common and destructive form of economic abuse, according to a specialist charity

The charity says one of its banking partners found that in cases of domestic abuse, by far the largest area of need is dealing with financial matters independently, such as help using an ATM card for the first time in years.

The firm involved supported 1,836 people via its specialist domestic abuse team over a 10-month period in 2021.

During the same period last year, a separate national service run by SEA and the charity Money Advice Plus found that 83 per cent of victims and survivors with a bank debt showed low levels of money knowledge.

When first accessing the service, 51 per cent with problems linked to banking products gave themselves a money confidence score of 5 or less on a scale of 1 to 10.

What is economic abuse? 

Domestic abusers use coercive tactics of many kinds, and one is to use money to control their partner.

Both women and men might suffer from this form of controlling behaviour, although women are more likely to be affected. 

Read more here on how to spot it happening, ways to break away from an abusive partner, and what resources are available to get your finances sorted again.

Surviving Economic Abuse has further advice here, and information on how to support and help someone else here.

SEA says forcing or coercing someone into debt is a common and destructive form of economic abuse, and in its casework seven in ten of those it supported had a bank debt.

A total of 193 bank debts it identified had a combined value of £889,000, making the average debt £4,607.

The research above was carried out with support from the Aviva Foundation, a charitable arm of the insurance firm.

Meanwhile, SEA says a previous study revealed:

– Three quarters of abuse victims and survivors report that their partner kept important financial information from them

– Six in ten report that their partner told them how they must spend money, rather than letting them make their own decisions

– Three in ten report being stopped from having or accessing a personal or joint bank account.

Ahead of the Government’s publication of a new domestic abuse strategy, SEA called for it to recognise how economic abuse makes it hard for victims to escape and rebuild their lives afterwards.

It says 95 per cent of those accessing specialist domestic abuse services have experienced economic abuse, and it was officially included within the definition of domestic abuse in legislation last year.

He controlled what I wore, what I ate and drank, who I saw, who I spoke to, my social media, my telephone, our bank accounts, my credit card. He controlled how much sleep I had…

Survivor of economic abuse, speaking to the charity SEA

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, founder and boss of SEA, says: ‘Economic abuse is an insidious and often invisible form of control, one which can trap a victim in a relationship with an abuser and leave them feeling like there is no escape.

‘Even when someone manages to leave, the harm caused by the abuser – the debt, the bad credit, the financial insecurity, lack of financial independence, knowledge and confidence – follows them around for the rest of their lives, preventing them from moving on safely.

‘We need the Government to follow up on their recognition of economic abuse within the Domestic Abuse Act passed last year by taking urgent action to tackle this important problem and put economic safety front and centre of the new Domestic Abuse Strategy.’

A Government spokesperson said: ‘Economic abuse can have a devastating impact on victims’ lives, that can limit their options to escape and access safety.

Help! I’m divorcing my abusive husband 

‘He’s left my daughter and I with little to live on and I fear fighting him in court…’ 

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs of Surviving Economic Abuse and divorce lawyer Fiona Wood, partner at McAlister Family Law, answer a reader question here. 

‘That is why under the landmark Domestic Abuse Act, for the first time in history, economic abuse is now recognised in law as part of the statutory definition of domestic abuse.

‘We will go even further in our forthcoming Domestic Abuse Strategy, which will seek to strengthen the systems in place to transform the whole of society’s response to these abhorrent crimes.’  

The strategy is intended to prevent offending, support victims, pursue perpetrators, and strengthen systems to deliver these goals. 

In the Domestic Abuse Act last year, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities introduced a new legal duty on local authorities to provide support for victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation, plus £125 million of Government funding.   

In 2020-21 the Government provided more than £28million to support domestic abuse organisations to deal with the effects of the pandemic, including up to 1,890 bedspaces for those seeking refuge.