money worries 685Financial and economic abuse

Economic abuse – of which financial abuse is a form of – can take many forms and involves an abuser restricting a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain money or other economic resources. It includes:

  • Controlling your money or other financial assets
  • Spending your money
  • Damaging your possessions or property
  • Putting debt in your name
  • Preventing you from accessing education or work
  • Withholding child maintenance payments

Economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse.

Refuge has created a list of questions which might help you recognise whether you are experiencing economic abuse.

Does – or did – your partner:

  • Prevent you from working, or stop you from going to work?
  • Prevent you from going to college or university?
  • Ask you to account for every penny you spend?
  • Check your receipts or bank statements so they can monitor how much you are spending?
  • Keep the log-in details, bank cards or PIN numbers for your joint account so that you cannot access the account?
  • Spend money allocated to bills for other things?
  • Steal, damage or destroy your possessions?
  • Spend whatever they want, but prevent you from spending any money?
  • Insist on control of all financial matters?
  • Insist that all the bills and loans are in your name?
  • Make you ask permission before making any purchase, no matter how small?
  • Make significant financial decisions without you (e.g. buying a new home, car)?
  • Place debts in your name?
  • Steal money from you, or use your bank card without permission?
  • Withhold child maintenance payments?
  • Initiate expensive post-separation legal battles knowing you cannot afford to fight, or will bankrupt you?

If any of these situations feel familiar, you may be experiencing economic abuse. You are not alone: research undertaken in 2020 by Refuge and The Co-operative found that 16% of adults in the UK adults have experienced economic abuse – and that 60% of survivors are women.

Practical first steps to take

If you are experiencing economic abuse, here are some practical first steps you can take. Remember, only make them if you can do so safely:

  • Speak to an adviser from Refuge’s Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, or speak to one of our advisers using our live chat, open Monday to Friday, 3-10pm.
  • Meet with/speak to an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA)
  • Freeze any joint accounts if it is safe to do so
  • Change PIN numbers and online banking passwords
  • Consider changing email and other online account password if it is safe to do so
  • Be clear what is in your name and what is not — joint assets, tenancy agreements, mortgages, bank accounts, and credit cards. If you aren’t sure you could check your credit report online.
  • Know where important financial documents are kept: keep copies in an emergency bag or with a friend
  • Consider talking to a financial expert — free services such as PayPlan, Citizens Advice, StepChange, or the Money Advice Service exist
  • Identify which benefits you are entitled to. Use a benefits calculator— or
  • Create an escape fund: put aside small amounts of money

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The above steps are taken from a practical guide called My Money, My Life guide for women experiencing economic abuse, developed by Refuge together with The Co-operative Bank. In this guide, you will find support and information around separating from your partner financially and regaining your economic independence.

Refuge and The Co-operative Bank have also launched a powerful campaign to shine a spotlight on this often overlooked form of domestic abuse. Find out more about My Money, My Life, here.

Kaylin thumb“I met Luke back in 2009. The financial abuse started very early on. Every pay day, Luke would demand to see my bank statements and I was forced to give him most of the money I had earnt and survive on next to nothing. He also stopped me from going to work – sometimes with violence and sometimes by guilt-tripping me. I kept money secretly hidden away from him, but I still couldn’t afford my car finance and car insurance bills. When Luke was given a council house, he forced me to pay his bills. Sometimes I would save money by not eating. It was a nightmare and at one point bailiffs were involved.


“I’m still affected by the financial abuse I endured. The car is still on finance, and my family have had to lend me thousands of pounds to pay back the debts he built up.


“I think that the “My money, my life” campaign is really important. So few women recognise that financial abuse is a form of abuse and that it can have devastating consequences. I really hope the campaign makes a difference to the lives of women living with abuse. Knowing the signs is the first step to protecting yourself.”

More resources on economic abuse

The Cooperative Bank have additional information on spotting the signs of economic abuse, and the charity Surviving Economic Abuse can also provide support and information.