What is financial or economic abuse?

Economic abuse, which includes financial abuse, is a form of domestic abuse. It occurs when an abuser restricts a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain money or other economic resources.

This can include:

  • refusing to let the survivor open a bank account
  • controlling how survivors use their income or benefits
  • having the survivor’s income paid into their bank account, and/or restricting their access to it
  • preventing or interfering with survivors’ work or education
  • building up debt in a survivor’s name
  • restricting survivors’ access to a car or mobile phone.

Although economic abuse is more common in intimate relationships, abusers may be a family member or carer. The majority of survivors will also experience other forms of domestic abuse alongside economic abuse.

What does economic abuse look like?

Economic abuse can take many forms, and include controlling the access and use of money and other resources as well as their ability to gain an income and economic independence in our ‘Know Economic Abuse’ study, we found that:

  • 19% of survivors experienced abuse related to accessing money in bank accounts
  • 25% had experienced abuse related to spending and credit
  • 17% had experienced abuse related to education and employment
  • 14% of survivors had limited or no control over their own income
  • 10% of respondents said their partner would not let them work.

“My ex-husband wouldn’t let me buy items for myself or my children that he deemed to be ‘non-essential’.”

“My ex-husband would control all finances. He used it as a power he had over me to control where I went and with who. It was his way of keeping me at home.”

“I wouldn’t be allowed any money. I always had to ask for it. Then I would have to provide receipts showing exactly what I bought and if it wasn’t what I said I’d bought I’d be in trouble.”

Learn more about how to spot the signs of economic abuse and the support available.

When can economic abuse happen?

Our latest study with Refuge found that, for 18% of survivors, economic abuse started at the beginning of their relationships. For others, it started following key life events:

  • 16% said the abuse began when they moved in with their partner
  • 12% first experienced economic abuse when they got married
  • 8% said it started when they first got a joint bank account with their partner.

Unlike other forms of domestic abuse, economic abuse is also common post-separation because it doesn’t require survivors and abusers to be physically close. 6% of survivors said that the abuse started after they had ended the relationship, and a quarter of survivors said the economic abuse continued after they had left.

Survivors are often left with debts, bad credit ratings, limited financial options and poor mental health for many years. These impacts can make it difficult for those experiencing economic abuse to leave the perpetrator. Read more about the long-term financial impact of economic abuse.

According to our research, economic abuse became more prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic. 1.6 million people - equivalent to 3% of the UK’s total population - first experienced economic abuse during this period. For more than one in three (35%) of those, this was as a result of a decrease in pay during the lockdown.

You can download the full findings of our report here.

Who can perpetrate economic abuse?

Although economic abuse is mainly perpetrated by intimate partners or ex-partners, it can also be carried out by carers and family members. In all these types of relationships, economic abuse can include:

  • taking out credit in your name without your knowledge or consent
  • taking control of your bank accounts
  • cashing a pension or cheque without your consent or knowledge
  • adding their name to your bank account
  • coercing or manipulating you to change your will
  • offering to pay your bills or for your shopping but not actually paying
  • stopping you from seeing friends or family members.

What should I do if I think I have experienced economic abuse?

You can find help and support on economic abuse on our dedicated webpage.

If you’re experiencing any form of economic or domestic abuse, you can call Refuge’s confidential National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free on 0808 200 0247. This is run solely by Refuge and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You can also seek support online via Refuge’s live chat or web form, Mon to Fri, 3pm to 10pm, at: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

UK Finance’s 'It's your money' consumer information leaflet (PDF) also provides information and resources to support those experiencing economic abuse.

Know economic abuse.

We have again partnered with Refuge to conduct a new study into the extent of economic abuse in the UK in 2020 with our ‘Know Economic Abuse’ campaign.

Read the findings

What can I do?

If you have experienced economic abuse, or if you are unsure but want to find out more, we want you to know we are here for you and have a range of support and resources available.

Find out more

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