What is financial abuse and how to protect yourself

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

What is financial abuse, and how to protect yourself

Many of us think of abuse as physical, emotional and even mental. We often don’t think of financial abuse as part of this equation, but this is a harsh reality for many people. Financial abuse is a form of coercive control, and there are numbers of women* who are unable to leave their partners or lead an independent life. It can leave women with no money for basic essentials, access to bank accounts, ability to earn their own income, and in debt, and also this can continue after the relationship has ended.

Domestic abuse takes on many forms and can happen to anyone regardless of race, sex or ethnicity. Domestic abuse is a crime.

*I am going to use the term women for the purpose of this article, but abuse can happen to anyone

Financial abuse from a partner is when you’re:

  • stopped from working or going to work to earn an income
  • asked to account for everything you spend
  • no longer able to access your financial accounts
  • left no money to spend on essential items

Also, if your partner has…

  • taken out credit cards and/or loans in your name
  • spent your household budget on things without telling you
  • put all the bills in your name and refuses to contribute

The Co-Operative Bank’s Guide to Financial Abuse:

I think financial abuse by a partner is more widespread than is realised. From running up debts in someone’s name, restricting access to a bank account, to a partner who controls all finances. Financial abuse can take many forms, but it’s important to understand when it is happening to you.

The Co-Operative Bank has written this guide to financial abuse, which is really helpful.

Economic abuse can take many forms, including 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, the findings are:

  • 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 would control all finances. He used it as a power over me to control where I went and with whom. It was his way of keeping me at home.”

Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

When can economic abuse happen?

Women’s Aid states that economic abuse is wider in its definition than ‘financial abuse’, as it can also include restricting access to essential resources such as food, clothing or transport and denying the means to improve a person’s economic status (for example, through employment, education or training). The charity Surviving Economic Abuse describes it in the following way:

“Economic abuse is designed to reinforce or create economic instability. In this way, it limits women’s choices and ability to access safety. Lack of access to economic resources can result in women staying with abusive men for longer and experiencing more harm as a result.” 

As reported in The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse, a survey of 72 survivors found that:

  • Nearly a third (31.9%) of respondents said their access to money during the relationship was controlled by the perpetrator
  • A quarter of respondents said that their partner did not let them have money for essentials during the relationship
  • A third of respondents had to give up their homes due to the abuse or leaving the relationship, and nine found themselves homeless due to leaving.
  • 43.1% of respondents told us they were in debt as a result of the abuse, and over a quarter regularly lost sleep through worrying about debt
  • 56.1% of our sample who had left a relationship with an abuser felt that the abuse had impacted their ability to work, and over two-fifths of all respondents felt the abuse had negatively impacted their long-term employment prospects/earnings.

The Co-Operative Bank’s latest study with Refuge found that, for 18% of survivors, economic abuse started at the beginning of their relationships.

For others, the abuse started following key life events, according to the study.

  • 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

A full list of support services can be found in the UK Finance ‘It’s your money information leaflet (PDF).


COVID and financial abuse

Sadly the pandemic has meant that vulnerable people have been at home with their abusers, and the pandemic has only escalated the situation. People are trapped within their homes, and the pandemic is used to control and keep people at home. Isolated from families and friends, they are even more vulnerable.

Key findings from the ‘Know Economic Abuse’ campaign:

  • 16% of adults in the UK (8.7 million people) say that they have experienced economic abuse
  • 39% of UK adults have experienced behaviours that suggest they have experienced economic abuse, but they didn’t recognise it as such
  • 10% of those who have experienced abuse (nearly a million people) say that abuse is currently ongoing
  • 85% of people who experienced economic abuse also experienced other forms of domestic abuse
  • Following economic abuse, one in five survivors (21%) have debts that they feel unable to repay
  • For 3% of all UK adults (1.6 million people) the economic abuse started during the coronavirus pandemic
  • For more than one in three (35%) of those who first experienced economic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, their partner first became abusive when their pay decreased as a result of the lockdown
  • A third of survivors suffer in silence, telling no one about the economic abuse they are experiencing.
  • 57% of those who had experienced economic abuse said that they were in or had been in debt because of economic abuse.

You can find a lot of useful information in the Surviving Economic Abuse guide to economic abuse and the coronavirus outbreak.

World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness day 2019
World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day

What is Narcissistic Abuse?

Unfortunately, many people ignore the ‘red flags’ in a relationship, but as you can see from the above, much of the financial abuse started later in the relationship.

With any Narcissistic Abuse, the ‘Love-Bombing‘ stage is at the beginning of the relationship, where the abuser will make you feel so special. More often than not, the relationship will develop very quickly. And they will tell you they love you very early on in the relationship. Following the love-bombing stage comes the Devaluation stage and then the final Discard. An abusive relationship can affect your confidence, ability to work, isolation from friends and family, and general health.

Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

When to seek help

Abuse only gets worse, not better. If someone starts abusing you, look to get out of the relationship and do not ignore the red flags. I joined a support group when I was recovering from what had become an abusive relationship, and sadly not everyone gets out of an abusive relationship alive. I have witnessed women scared of their partners yet unable to move out because their partner has made them vulnerable by isolating them from friends and family (a common tactic) and making them completely dependent on them for money (again, another control tactic).

If you are in a position where you feel trapped and are scared of your partner, please seek help. Do not tell your partner you are leaving; look for an escape route. Seek professional help and make sure that you protect yourself.


How to protect yourself

In any relationship, it’s important to protect yourself both financially, physically, emotionally and mentally. Abuse often happens gradually, which is why lots of people stay in an abusive relationships. Financial control means you might not have access to money, you have children who you are trying to protect, and you might even have had all access to money stopped.

So let’s look at ways in which you can protect yourself. You may think your partner may be smarter with money if they offer to look after all of the finances, but this is also a red flag. Make sure you know what’s going on with your finances at any one time. During COVID, with people losing their jobs, being in a relationship often means supporting one another. However, financial abuse means that someone is willing to abuse their trust and relationship with you as a means of coercive control. It takes years for some women to recover financially from all of the debts a partner has run up in their name or have had all of their assets taken away from them.

Money Tips:

  • Keep a separate bank account from your partner
  • Change your passwords regularly
  • Check your credit rating
  • Only take out a loan if it is for you
  • Do not share your PIN number
  • Check your own mail

How to leave safely

If you want to leave your partner, there are a series of steps you can take to ensure your safety and make sure your finances will be as manageable as possible. Contact a lawyer to help or seek legal aid to help you once you leave. Unfortunately, financial abuse can have long effects if you are saddled with debt, have joint finances or have lost control over your money. Be careful about leaving your phone around or your social media accounts open. Log out and delete all cookies so that someone can’t log straight back in using your internet history. If you are communicating with someone to plan your escape, you don’t want these messages discovered.

The Money Advice Service has listed out all documents to take with you:

If you want to escape an abusive partner, try and gather together important paperwork before you need to leave. You might need some of these to be able to claim legal aid.

  • passports
  • bank statements
  • your National Insurance number
  • payslips, benefit award letters, or proof of education or training providers
  • tax documents such as your P60 and P45
  • birth certificates (yours and your children’s), and marriage certificate
  • documents proving ownership of any belongings
  • credit card bills and other bills that are in your name or in joint names
  • driving licence.

If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999. Call 999 followed by 55 to indicate you need help if you can’t talk.

There are a number of organisations that can give you help and advice if you are not in immediate danger.



Women’s Aid:

Women’s Aid can offer help and support if you’re experiencing financial abuse. Your local Women’s Aid organisation might also be able to recommend a suitable solicitor if you need one.

  • EnglandWomen’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on 0808 2000 247.
  • Wales: Welsh Women’s Aid website or call the All-Wales 24-Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
  • Northern IrelandWomen’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24-Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 802 1414.
  • ScotlandScottish Women’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24-Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0800 027 1234.

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline:

Emotional and practical support for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic, emotional or financial abuse. Call 0800 999 5428 or send them an email to**


If you, or someone you care about, is experiencing domestic abuse, you can phone. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 to discuss your options. and You can contact the Helpline directly via this contact form.

Footer Banner