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One in five adults is a victim of financial abuse in a relationship according to a new report

10 December 2015

  • The Co-operative Bank and Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, launch "My Money, My Life" campaign calling for industry-wide agreement to support people who experience financial abuse in their relationships
  • Half of victims experience a partner taking financial assets without permission
  • For women, financial abuse rarely happens in isolation - 86 per cent experience other forms of abuse
  • A third of financial abuse victims suffer in silence, telling no-one

Nearly one in five British adults - 9.2m people - say they have experienced financial abuse in an intimate relationship, according to a new report launched today by The Co-operative Bank and Refuge, the national domestic violence charity.1

The "My Money, My Life" campaign raises awareness of the true scale of financial abuse for the first time, as it occurs within intimate relationships, where financial control, exploitation or sabotage are used to control a person's ability to acquire, use and maintain financial resources. Refuge and The Co-operative Bank have joined forces to carry out the UK’s largest study to date in this area in order to understand the prevalence of financial abuse in intimate relationships in the UK.

Financial abuse in relationships - who are the victims?

The 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.

The findings show that 18 per cent 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 60 per cent of all cases are reported by women.

Financial abuse against women is more likely to start at key life stage events compared to men. It is almost twice as likely to begin when they move in with a partner (71 per cent versus 28 per cent), when they get married (75 per cent versus 25 per cent), or when they had children (70 per cent v 30 per cent).2

  • Financial abuse in relationships against women also lasts for a longer period of time compared to men, with 78 per cent of women saying their abuse went on over five years compared to 23 per cent of men
  • Women are also more likely to experience financial abuse in multiple relationships (69 per cent versus 31 per cent) and post separation
  • Of the women experiencing financial abuse in relationships, they were more likely to be heterosexual and living as married, with the cases of financial abuse greatest amongst full-time working women (46 per cent) and women working part-time (21 per cent). This compares to 1 in 5 women who are retired and just 5 per cent who are unemployed
  • 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 (88 per cent), people in same-sex (29 per cent) or bi-sexual (32 per cent) relationships report disproportionately higher cases.3 In addition, those with a disability appear considerably more vulnerable to financial abuse – 53 per cent of all reported cases in the study. The report highlights the need for additional research to understand this further.

Report recommendations

The report makes a series of recommendations on how the banking sector could positively support victims. The Co-operative Bank is committed to implementing key recommendations and working with the industry to:

  • Develop a code of practice to guide financial institutions so there is consistent response to the disclosure of intimate partner financial abuse;
  • Develop awareness-raising materials for customers and guidance about how to recognise and cope with financial abuse in relationships;
  • Train staff to respond appropriately and create referral pathways to access specialist support;
  • Develop a system where victims who need to report this kind of abuse don't need to tell their story repeatedly, which can be traumatic.

 Laura Carstensen, chair of The Co-operative Bank’s Values and Ethics Committee, comments: "This study lifts the lid on the true extent of financial abuse in relationships in the UK. While other types of domestic abuse are well-documented, the impact of this kind of coercive control where money is used as a weapon within an intimate relationship is not yet fully understood. Two-thirds of consumers who took part in our study thought this was an issue that banks should raise awareness of and that is exactly why we’ve joined forces with Refuge to launch this new campaign.

"We are calling on the industry, regulators and government to join us in creating an industry-wide agreement to identify and address banking practices that fail to help victims of financial abuse in relationships, and more importantly, develop a code of practice that ensures there is adequate and consistent support for those trapped in relationships with abusive partners. Victims of financial abuse are often unable to open bank accounts due to lack of relevant identification documentation post-separation. The lack of, or poor credit history as a result of partner behaviour, or paper-based account management processes put victims at risk of being unintentionally found. Our 'My Money, My Life' campaign aims to bring the banking industry together to break down those barriers."

Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, says: "Money is a constant worry for many of us at the moment. For women who report that they have experienced financial abuse, money can be a matter of life and death. It can mean the difference between being trapped with a violent and dangerous abuser, or escaping to a place of safety.

"Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence and the consequences of this type of abuse can be both devastating and long-lasting. Some women are forced to hand over their wages or benefits to their partner every month. Others are prevented from going out to work or completing their education. Many victims are forced to provide receipts, accounting for every single penny they spend or are given such ridiculously small 'allowances' they can't afford to buy food for themselves and their children. Some are forced into debt, shackled to a past relationship through a churn of constant bills and repayments. This is why Refuge is delighted that The Co-operative Bank is working with us to shine a light on this often overlooked form of abuse. Together, we want to make people realise that these behaviours are not OK and highlight that there is support available."

Suffering in silence

The report reveals that financial abuse rarely occurs in isolation; the vast majority (82 per cent) have also been victim of other forms of abuse in their relationship. But women are more likely than men to experience repeated acts of physical, psychological and emotional abuse alongside financial abuse.

As such, this may explain why a third of all victims (34 per cent) who have experienced financial abuse have kept silent and told no-one of their abuse; 67 per cent of these are women.

Top signs of financial abuse

Victims of financial abuse experience behaviour which aims to exert financial control, to exploit finances or to sabotage their financial situation. In the study the top signs of financial abuse among victims were identified as indicated in the table below.

Partner using money as means of manipulation 55 per cent
Partner making significant financial decisions without consulting them 52 per cent
Having to ask permission or show evidence of spending 49 per cent
Partner taking financial assets without permission 47 per cent
Personal spending monitored or only allowed money for bare essentials 45 per cent
Partner putting debts in their name and being afraid to say no 41 per cent
Partner stopping or interfering with them going to work 41 per cent
Not been allowed to have their own savings account 35 per cent
Prevented from having access to a personal bank account 30 per cent

Prevalence of financial abuse may be greater than reported

Notably, the study found that a third of Brits (35 per cent) admit to having experienced at least one potential indicator of financial abuse in a current or past relationship. For example, 1 in 10 said a partner has put his/her debts in their name and they were afraid to say no, with a similar number (eight per cent) saying a partner has not allowed them to have their own savings. Some (12 per cent) had their property destroyed by a partner and 11 per cent have had financial assets taken from them while eight per cent have experienced a partner gambling with their money.

This suggests that cases of financial abuse may be even greater still but simply not identified as such, although the research showed that not all unequal financial relationships exist within a pattern of power and control. With almost one in three Brits (30 per cent) stating they know somebody who has experienced financial abuse in a relationship, compared to 18 per cent of all adults stating they have experienced financial abuse, this is very likely to be the case.

Refuge has produced a financial guide for women experiencing financial abuse, with support from The Co-operative Bank. The Bank has also developed awareness raising material for customers, colleagues and a one-stop shop of information online: //www.co-operativebank.co.uk/mymoneymylife.

To view the full research report from Refuge and The Co-operative Bank: click here.

To view the 'My Money, My Life' guide: click here.

Spokespeople are available for comment and interviews. Case studies are also available on request.

For further information contact The Co-operative Bank Press Office.

-- ENDS --

Notes to editors:

  • At present, there is no published data on the prevalence of financial abuse in England and Wales; the Crime Survey for England and Wales, together with the Office of National Statistics, combine data on financial and emotional abuse, reporting them as "non-physical" abuse but these are limited in scope and are not published in a disaggregated form
  • The 'My Money, My Life' report has been made up of two elements; a nationally representative survey among 4,002 adults in the UK, conducted by Opinium between 13 and 21 August 2015, and qualitative research interviews undertaken with 20 survivors of intimate partner violence whom had accessed Refuge's specialist services
  • The report was written for Refuge and The Co-operative Bank by academic Nicola Sharp-Jeffs

1. According to the ONS the UK Adult Population in mid-2014 was 50.9 million. 18 per cent of this total equates to 9.2 million people.

2. Percentages calculated as a proportion of women and men who reported each statement not all victims.

3. Compared to 18 per cent in heterosexual relationships.

About The Co-operative Bank

The Co-operative Bank plc provides a full range of banking products and services to around 5 million retail and SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) customers. The Bank is committed to values and ethics in line with the principles of the co-operative movement.

The Co-operative Bank has a strong heritage for campaigning on issues that matter to its customers in line with its Ethical Policy, which it extended in January 2015 following an extensive consultation with 75,000 stakeholders. At that point the Bank made a commitment to return to campaigning and put its support behind causes that will bring social and economic change to society.

About Refuge

Refuge opened the world's first refuge in Chiswick, West London, in 1971. Since then it has grown to become the country's largest single provider of specialist support to women and children escaping domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence. On any given day Refuge supports over 3,300 women and children experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, stalking, trafficking, prostitution and so-called 'honour' based violence.

Refuge runs a national network of specialist services, including: safe emergency accommodation through refuges in secret locations across the country; community-based outreach services; culturally specific services for women from South Asian, African and Caribbean, and Vietnamese backgrounds; independent domestic violence advocacy (IDVAs) for women at the highest risk of serious injury and homicide; the Gaia Centre, a pioneering service which supports victims of all forms of gender-based violence; and the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership with Women's Aid.

Refuge’s award-winning media and advertising campaigns raise public awareness of domestic violence. Additionally, Refuge campaigns and lobbies for better protection for women and children experiencing domestic violence. In recent years Refuge has advised the governments, law-enforcement agencies, international communities and NGOs of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malawi, St Lucia, Turkey and Russia on their strategies to reduce violence against women. For more information please visit www.refuge.org.uk or follow Refuge’s work on Facebook and Twitter.

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