What is financial abuse?
It’s a sad reality that abusive relationships still go unreported and unpunished all over the UK. Abuse can affect anyone of any age and any gender, in any kind of relationship. It can take many forms, from physical to verbal and psychological abuse, and also financial abuse.
Financial abuse is when someone controls your money as a way of controlling your life and exerting power over you. Anyone can abuse you financially, including partners, children and housemates.
The abuser may directly take away your cash and bank cards or use your name to make purchases. They may keep you unemployed or stop you from progressing in your current job. They may build up debts in your name or damage your possessions or property and, in doing so, dictate what you have to spend your money on.
They may even continue to abuse you financially when you’re separated or no longer living together. A former partner may withhold child maintenance payments as a form of control and ‘punishment’ for not staying with them. In this way, a financial abuser may put you in a situation where you feel you can’t leave the relationship because you believe you couldn’t survive on the money you have left - again, controlling your life and potentially opening you up to further abuse by making you stay.
There are many different ways in which financial abuse happens and it’s as serious as any other form of abusive behaviour.
Although it can happen to anyone, a recent study found that six out of ten victims of financial abuse are female. Women are generally more likely to stay in these kinds of abusive relationships rather than leave them. More than three quarters said that they had waited for more than five years to leave their partner, as opposed to just under a quarter of men who had waited that long. What’s more, a third of financial abuse victims said they hadn't told anyone that it was happening. Victims like Janet*, a former CAP client, who told us:
‘I married a guy who didn’t earn much money himself and I was so in love with him that I allowed things that I shouldn’t have. I made the mistake of giving him access to my credit card account and he just spent and spent. I was made redundant from my job and he just carried on spending. Even when we separated, it continued – he wasn’t paying his bills and they’d come through to me.
‘In the end, I got a legal summons saying I was being taken to court because I owed about £85,000. I also found out that I’d not only been keeping my husband, but his second wife and child too!’
Janet's story is an extreme example of financial abuse and resulted in her falling into a severe amount of debt. Sadly, at CAP we see many people coming to us for help as a result of this kind of abuse. While some, like Janet, have thankfully managed to get debt free and got their lives back on track, there are no doubt many still out there struggling in silence, risking debt for no other reason than they've put their trust in the wrong person.
So what help is available?
Refuge, a charity committed to protecting women and children from domestic violence, has launched a new campaign called My money, my life and has produced a financial guide as a resource for people who have experienced financial abuse. Working with the Co-operative Bank, the campaign looks to drive change across the banking sector and help people suffering to find it easier to seek help. To find out more, click here.
You can also find lots more information on what constitutes as financial abuse, how to protect yourself and where to find help here.
Most importantly, don’t suffer in silence. If you’re in debt because of any form of abuse, give us a call on 0800 328 0006 and we’ll do our best to advise you.