What is financial abuse?

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse in intimate relationships is a way of controlling a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain their own money and financial resources.

Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence. According to financial abuse expert, Nicola Jeff-Sharp from the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU) at London Metropolitan University, it is best described as an example of intimate partner violence. Domestic violence involves a pattern of behaviour that one person uses to control, undermine and obtain power over another person. Domestic abuse can include physical, sexual, psychological/emotional and financial abuse. More simply, financial abuse is a current or former partner controlling someone’s ability to acquire, use or maintain financial resources by preventing victims from earning or accessing their own money.

Examples Include:

  • Stealing money from a partner
  • Preventing a partner from accessing their own/joint account
  • Damaging possessions which then have to be replaced
  • Insisting benefits are in their name
  • Putting debts in a partner’s name
  • Stopping a partner from going to work

This abuse can also continue post-separation.

Lifting the lid on financial abuse

One in five UK adults is a victim of financial abuse in a relationship.

The ‘My money, my life’ campaign seeks to establish, for the first time, the true scale of financial abuse as it occurs within intimate relationships in the UK. While other forms of domestic violence are well documented, the use of money to exercise power within a relationship is not yet fully recognised. Yet the impact of this form of abuse – where financial control, exploitation or sabotage are used to control a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain financial resources - can be both devastating and long-lasting.

Our campaign launches with the publication of a new research report Money Matters - research into the extent and nature of financial abuse in relationships in the UK. The research report combines a study of over 4,000 adults with academic analysis and qualitative research interviews undertaken with 20 survivors of domestic abuse who had accessed Refuge’s specialist services.

Copyright Julian Nieman for Refuge

Case study: Clare’s story

Clare met Paul at a party when they both were in their twenties and entered into a relationship that lasted nine months, during which he isolated her from friends and family. Clare says she felt Paul brainwashed her into thinking his behavior was acceptable.

Clare says that every pay day, Paul would demand to see her bank statement and then make her feel bad for having the money she had earnt. Clare was forced to give him most of it and survive on next to nothing. Secretly, Clare stored money away from him but couldn’t afford her car finance or car insurance bills. She says, “it was a nightmare as at one point bailiffs were involved”.

Clare’s financial abuse, like the vast majority of cases of such abuse, was linked to other forms of abuse including physical abuse. Paul was jailed for 16 months for assault and she has a five year restraining order in place.

One in five of all adults in the UK have been a victim of financial abuse in a current or past relationship. Victims span gender, age and income groups; however, it is notable that the majority of cases are reported by women.

  • Financial abuse against women is more likely to start at key life stage events compared to men, for example, when moving in with a partner, getting married or having a baby.
  • Financial abuse in relationships against women also lasts for a longer period of time compared to men.
  • Women are also more likely to experience financial abuse in multiple relationships and post separation.
  • Women experiencing financial abuse in relationships were more likely to be heterosexual and living as married, with the highest prevalence of financial abuse occurring amongst full-time working women and women working part-time.

As women are the most affected group, and the research shows they are the least likely to contact their bank for help, breaking down the barriers to enable a woman to access support from her bank is a key part of the campaign.

Overall the report shows that while the majority of people experiencing this type of abuse are in heterosexual relationships, people in same-sex or bi-sexual relationships were more likely to be victims of financial abuse than the rest of the population. In addition, those with a disability were also more likely to be victims of financial abuse in an intimate relationship.

You can download the full findings of our report here.

If you are the victim of financial abuse or have concerns about domestic violence, please visit the Help and resources section for guidance and help.

For more information about our campaign, go to the Why are we campaigning? page.