Financial Abuse

Financial Abuse – How to Spot It and What to Do

What is domestic abuse? In the past, that phrase would have instantly brought to mind the words physical assault, battery, or even rape.  Nowadays, domestic abuse is recognised as any behaviour towards a partner or close family member designed to exert control over their life.

Financial abuse is experienced by 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men, and any person being abused is likely to experience a range of abusive behaviours rather than just one. These could include physical, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse.  So, how do you recognise financial abuse, and what should you do if you think you are or have been a victim of it?

What is Financial Abuse?

In a nutshell, financial abuse involves controlling a person’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources. For example, those who are victimised financially may be prevented from working or encouraged to stop working, making them dependent on their abusive partner.

If a person receives benefits for themselves and their children, the abuser may steal this money from the victim or persuade them to give it over voluntarily. A person who is working may still have their own money restricted or taken. Rarely does a victim have complete access to money and other resources, and when they do have money, they are likely to have their financial activities tightly regulated.

The forms of financial abuse vary depending on the situation. Sometimes an abuser may use subtle tactics to manipulate and make someone believe that handing over financial matters to them is what they should do, while other abusers may be more direct and use threats and intimidation.  Whatever the form of financial abuse, the goal is always to have power and control in a relationship.

How Might Financial Abuse Affect Me?

Financial abuse is an extremely powerful tool for keeping a victim trapped in a relationship, and the longer it goes on, the harder it is for a victim to remove themselves from the situation.  Research shows that, over time, victims lose confidence in their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children, which, in turn, stops them from leaving their relationship. Financial insecurity is one of the most common reasons why women return to abusive partners.

Even if a victim finds themselves freed from their abuser, the devastating impact of financial abuse can last for years, and survivors are often plagued with thousands of pounds of debt.  Victims are also more vulnerable to falling into similar relationships in the future.

What Can I Do If I Am a Victim of Financial Abuse?

If you recognise that you’re in or have been in a vulnerable situation that is impacting your life, you need to get support. To help you do this, I’ve put together a quick guide on what steps you can take to get your life back on track.

First, here is a list of things to watch out for.  You can answer these questions to help you think about your relationship and how much control your partner has or has had over you with regard to your finances.

  • Were you given an “allowance”?
  • Did you have to account for everything you spent? 
  • Were you pressured to quit your job or not take promotions? 
  • Did your ex-partner feel entitled to your money or assets? 
  • Did your ex-partner spend shared money without you knowing? 
  • Did your ex-partner control how all of the household finances were spent? 
  • Did your ex-partner limit your access to your bank account? 
  • Did your ex-partner live in your home without working and contributing financially? 
  • Did your ex-partner expect you to do all the household tasks? 
  • Were credit cards maxed out in your name and not paid? 
  • Were you threatened to be cut off financially? 
  • Were funds from your children’s savings accounts used without mutual agreement? 
  • Did your ex-partner engage in other forms of abuse when they got angry over your spending habits? 


First Steps for Recovering from Financial Abuse

One of the most difficult things that you will have to do is face up to the financial mess left by your abusive ex-partner.  You might feel overwhelmed by this prospect and might not even know where to begin.  The first thing to do is to get help to deal with any debt.

There are a lot of well-established national charities whose job is to assist victims of domestic abuse.  You may also be able to find one that is local that can help. Here’s a list of some of the most experienced organisations that help victims of domestic abuse.

0808 200 0247

Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline Northern Ireland:
0808 802 414

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline:
0800 027 1234

Live Fear Free Wales:
0808 801 0800

Respect Men’s Advice Line:
0808 801 0327

Women’s Aid Online Directory of Services for Domestic Abuse Support:

Victim Support UK:
0808 168 9111


If you prefer not to get outside help, here are some basic ‘must do’ steps that you can take to begin your financial recovery.

  1. Establish a Steady Income

One of the many ways an abuser might try to control their partner is by forcing them to give up their work and their income.  Not working for a long period has its issues. It can feel very scary to try and enter the world of work again after a lengthy absence. Long gaps in employment history can make finding a new job even harder.

Try not to be put off or to give yourself challenges you’re not ready for. Start off small with a part time job that is not pressurised and well within your skillset.  It might not be the job you want to do in the long term but it’s all about regaining that confidence in your ability to earn a living.

If you don’t feel ready to step into employment right away, you could work on a CV, ask the Job Centre to suggest a course to prepare you for work, or brush up on some skills.

  1. Make a List of Creditors

Make a list of all the credit accounts that you have in your name and find out who you need to speak to discuss any outstanding debt.  Be aware that your ex-partner might have done some things that you were not aware of and you might have accounts in your name that you didn’t create. Check your credit report for a complete overview of your debts. Credit Karma and Experian offer a free credit-checking service. Most banks and reputable lenders have support and help for victims of financial abuse. Make them aware of your situation as soon as possible so that they can work with you.

  1. Clean Up Your Credit Report

If you have been forced or manipulated to open accounts in your name or this can be done without your knowledge or permission, the credit reference agency Experian has a Victims of Fraud Team that can help to dispute accounts on your behalf.

  1. Deal with Rental Arrears to Avoid Homelessness

If you have been made homeless due to rental arrears or could be in a situation where you’re unable to pay the rent due to financial abuse, you should contact an organisation such as Shelter that can give advice on rights and what to say to a private landlord if you are in arrears.  They will make sure that you can find accommodation if required and speak to the local council if you are in danger of becoming homeless because of domestic abuse.

Finally, some reassurance and encouragement as you go through the process of moving on from an abusive relationship. If you’re reading this because you’ve suffered financial abuse, you’re making a move away from an abusive relationship. This is one of many steps in the right direction. Some will be harder than others and you shouldn’t hesitate to get as much support as you possibly can. You and any children can be free from domestic abuse and build a happier future.

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