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As domestic abuse figures rise, here’s how to spot the signs of financial abuse

As domestic abuse figures rise, here’s how to spot the signs of financial abuse
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In the year to March 2021, police in England and Wales recorded 1.46 million incidents of domestic abuse. More than 845,000 of them were classed as crimes, which is an increase of 6% compared to the year before.

But while many of us consider domestic abuse to be physical, that’s not always the case. There are other, more insidious forms of abuse, such as coercive control, which can include financial abuse. Here’s what to look for if you think you or someone you know might be affected.

Domestic abuse and coercive control

In its last study on the financial impact of domestic abuse, the Home Office revealed the total cost of abuse in England and Wales was just over £66 billion. This includes the cost of physical and emotional harm to those affected, which was estimated at more than £47 billion and the cost of lost output that was estimated at £14 billion. 

But domestic abuse covers a number of behaviours and coercive control is one of them. This is when perpetrators try to make victims dependent on them by isolating the victim from their friends and family. 

Coercive control, which has been a criminal offence since 2015, comes in many forms. It includes behaviour that threatens, deprives and humiliates those on the receiving end. Financial abuse is also an example of this type of control. 

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is when the perpetrator misuses or controls their victim’s money or access to money. It usually occurs alongside other forms of domestic abuse and is rarely a behaviour that happens on its own. 

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown, explains: “Domestic abuse doesn’t always involve the kind of drama we’ve come to expect from soap opera storylines. Sometimes it’s a slow and steady escalation of behaviour that makes it difficult to spot, both when you’re in a relationship, and when you’re looking out for your friends and family.

“Financial abuse can be eating away at someone’s mental and financial resilience, without anyone realising what’s going on, so we all need to know the signs.”

What are examples of financial abuse?

Financial abusers can be anyone, not just a partner. It could be a friend, family member or even a carer. 

Fundamentally, financial abuse is about cutting off a person’s access to money and, in turn, their independence. It’s about isolating the victim from people that care about their welfare, and it can take many forms. Typical examples include:

  • Taking the victim’s money or making them hand over control of their accounts.
  • Applying for loans or credit in the victim’s name without their consent.
  • Asking the victim to change their will in the abuser’s favour.
  • Stopping the victim from going to work (or getting work in the first place).
  • Preventing the victim from studying or going to college or university.
  • Making the victim account for every penny they spend, asking for receipts.
  • Stopping the victim from buying essential items they need, such as sanitary products.
  • Spending household budgets without the victim’s knowledge.

What are the signs and symptoms of financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a covert form of domestic abuse, so it’s not always easy to spot. But, if you’re worried about someone you know, signs that they’re affected by financial abuse include them:

  • Spending less than usual even though their personal circumstances haven’t changed. This can include refusing invitations for activities or events that cost money.
  • Not having money for essential items or having to regularly borrow money to pay for them, even if they’re working.
  • Giving up work, college or university without sufficient explanation.
  • Appearing anxious when they spend money or having to ask permission before spending it. 

Where is help available for domestic abuse? 

If you need advice about domestic abuse or want to support someone you have concerns for, the following organisations can help:

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