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Protecting yourself against financial abuse

Everyone has the right to financial independence. If your partner is controlling your money or running up debts in your name, it’s called financial abuse. But there’s no need to struggle alone. There are things you can do and places to go for help and support.

Coronavirus and financial abuse

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The coronavirus outbreak is a difficult time for many people, but especially if you’re facing domestic and financial abuse.

Social distancing and isolation might increase the power of have, and their opportunities to control their victims. This can include:

  • controlling or making it difficult for you to work from home
  • refusing to share childcare responsibilities
  • preventing you  having access to phones and laptops
  • forcing you to cut back on essentials like heating or food, or
  • ·preventing you having contact with friends or family.

If you’re experiencing economic abuse, or are supporting someone who’s in that situation, you can get help immediately.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 200 0247, or the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327.

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What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse.  It’s a crime and should be reported to the police.

Financial abuse can take many forms so will look different within different relationships.

A partner is often the one carrying out the abuse, but it can also come from other relationships – for example, family members, friends and carers.

Someone abusive might prevent you having control over your money as a way of having power over you.

Sometimes, they might be physically violent.

Financial abuse in the home – whether it’s accompanied by aggression or physical violence – can leave you feeling isolated, lacking in confidence and trapped.

Financial abuse from a family member, friend, partner or carer can be when someone:

  • takes out money or gets credit in your name without your knowledge or permission
  • makes you hand over control of your accounts
  • cashes in your pension or other cheques without your permission
  • adds their name to your account
  • asks you to change your will
  • has offered to buy shopping or pay bills with your money, but you don’t see this happening, or
  • prevents you seeing other friends and family.

Financial abuse from a partner can be when someone:

  • prevents you working or going to work
  • prevents you going to college or university
  • asks you to account for every time you spend money
  • prevents you accessing your bank, loan or credit card accounts
  • prevents you buying essential items
  • takes out credit cards or loans in your name
  • spends your household budget on things without telling you, or
  • puts all the bills in your name only.

Taking the first steps to break free of financial abuse is very brave. It may seem scary but you don’t have to do it alone.

There are ways your bank, building society, lender or other financial-service provider can help you. It’s really important to talk to someone.

Worried about Universal Credit single payments?

With the introduction of Universal Credit in England, Wales and Scotland, several existing benefits and tax credits are being combined into a single monthly payment.

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Couples who live together will make a joint claim for Universal Credit. This payment will usually go into one bank account.

Child Benefit will remain as a separate benefit from Universal Credit.

When you make your claim, you’ll be asked which bank account you want to have your money paid into. If you have children, your work coach will tell you that your Universal Credit payment should go into the main carer’s bank account.

If you and your partner don’t agree on an account for your Universal Credit payments, the Jobcentre Plus will nominate one.

If you’re worried about your partner controlling all your benefit income – and leaving you (and your children) without any or a reasonable amount cash – speak to someone at the Jobcentre.

If you can, have your Universal Credit paid into your own account or split into separate payments. That way, you’ll get money for yourself (and your children) and your partner will get a separate payment.

This is an option for anyone in ‘exceptional circumstances’ – for example, people at risk of domestic or financial abuse.

There are domestic abuse support officers in every Jobcentre Plus in the UK. They’re trained to help you deal with these situations and offer practical support if you need it.

Where you can get advice

If you or your children are in immediate danger, dial 999 to call the police. If you can’t talk, dial 999 followed by 55.

If you’re not in immediate danger, there are lots of organisations that can give you help and advice.

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.

You can find information on their websites or by calling their 24-hour helplines:

Men’s Advice Line

Call the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327. It’s free from landlines and most mobile phones.

They offer emotional support, practical advice and can let you know about other services for specialist help.

Or, visit the Men’s Advice Line website

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline

Emotional and practical support for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic, emotional or financial abuse.

For help with dealing with domestic abuse, call them on 0800 999 5428, email them at help@galop.org.uk or visit the Galop website

How to leave safely

If you want to leave your partner, there are things you can do to make sure that you’re safe and that your finances will be as manageable as possible:

  • Contact a family law solicitor.
  • Keep a record of each incident. Take photographs of any physical harm to you, your home or things you own.
  • Report each incident to your local police and doctor, so they can keep a record.
  • Make a safety plan in case you need to leave your home in an emergency.
  • Gather important documents (see below), before you need to leave.

Important documents

If you want to separate from your partner, try to gather important paperwork before you leave. You might need some of these to be able to claim legal aid.

Try to find:

  • 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)
  • if you’re married – your marriage certificate
  • documents proving ownership of any belongings
  • credit card bills and other bills that are in your name or in joint names
  • your driving licence.

If it’s not possible – or not safe – to take the originals, try making copies, or write down important information such as account numbers.

But it’s not a good idea to take information you can’t get access to easily. For example, it’s best not to access your partner’s computer without their permission.

You might be able to get legal aid to help pay the costs of legal advice for taking legal action to protect you and your children.

This can include legal aid to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership.

To prove you qualify for legal aid, you’ll need copies of some important documents. Some of these are listed above. Find out more from the GOV.UK website

Look for a solicitor who takes legal aid cases. You can find one on the Law Society website

Where to get cash in an emergency

If you have to leave in a hurry and don’t have access to cash, contact your local authority (or the devolved administration in Wales) to see if they can help you with emergency support.

Things to consider

Passwords and security

If you’ve given anyone your passwords (a partner, family members or friends), it’s important to change them as soon as possible. This will mean your abuser doesn’t have access to your personal accounts.

Letters and bank statements

If you can, try to find all your important documents. This will make it much easier to open new accounts, claim benefits or apply for jobs in the future.

If you don’t know where these are or don't have a hold of them, there are still things you can do. Try to write down or memorise any important information or numbers – for example, your National Insurance number and account number. This will make it easier for your bank or building society to find you on their systems.

Keeping your information safe

You don’t want information from your bank or building society getting into the wrong hands. Think about where your letters are, and where they’re being posted to.

If you don’t want them going to the same address, ask for them to be sent elsewhere.

It’s important to be aware that some transactions on your bank statements can give away where you are (such as which cash machines you’ve used). So it’s important to keep this information as safe as possible.

Joint accounts

If you have a joint account with your partner or ex-partner, you can talk to your bank or building society about your options.

If you’re worried about money being taken out of your account without your permission, you can ask that your bank or building society only acts on instructions from both or all account holders. This means that payments can’t come out without joint instructions. But on a practical level, this might suspend your regular payment cards and online access.

Be aware that your abuser can also suspend your joint account, limiting your access to money. You can check how you’re financially connected to someone by accessing your free online credit report.

Opening a new account

You might want to open a new account, as this will help separate your money from your abuser.

If you don’t want your personal documents delivered to your home, speak to your provider about getting them posted elsewhere.

To open a new bank account, you’ll need to provide identification and an alternative address. If you aren’t able to get your hands on these documents, explain your situation to the bank to see how they can help. They’re often able to accept letters from a refuge, social worker or local authority.

Review your payments

If you’re not sure what’s coming in and out of your account, contact your bank and they can help you work out with this information.

It might be a good idea to make a budget. This can help you plan your money a bit more.

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Credit rating

A lot of financial changes might affect your credit rating. Whenever you apply for an overdraft, credit card and loan, it’s recorded on your credit report.

Things that can affect your credit report include missing repayments, going over your credit limits or taking out a lot of new credit.

All this could mean that because of your financial abuse, your credit rating could be affected – especially if someone has taken out credit in your name.

It’s important to keep an eye on your credit score because a low rating might make it harder to apply for credit in the future.

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Credit cards

If you have a credit card, one of you will usually have applied for it in just one name – they would be the ‘primary cardholder’.

Unlike with joint accounts, only the primary cardholder is responsible for the card – even if the other person spends on it, or has an extra card and is the ‘secondary cardholder’. The secondary cardholder won’t legally have to pay anything back.

If you’re the primary cardholder, you might want to get the other person removed from your account to prevent them spending any more money.

Third party access

If you need extra support, you might want to give a trusted person access to your finances. This can be helpful if:

  • you’re not always able to get into a branch
  • you need them to call or speak to someone in your bank or building society, or
  • you just don’t feel confident to do it on your own.
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Mortgages

If you have a joint mortgage, you’ll both still be equally responsible for the mortgage repayments.

If you need to, you can ask your mortgage lender to send statements with the balance and payment information to another address.

Dealing with debts

Some abusers will take out loans, overdrafts or credit cards in your name, or use your property for security for a loan – either with or without your knowledge and permission.

It’s worth accessing your free credit report online to see what credit is against your name.

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If you think other accounts have been opened in your name, you can also register with Cifas, who (for a fee) offer a Protective Registration service. This means they’ll contact you to verify any account applications in your name.

Be aware that if you’re registered with Cifas, it can slow down applications for credit as they’ll need to manually check the application.

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If you’re struggling with debt, it can be hard to know where to turn. But with lots of free advice services across the UK, you can find the best help for you.

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Protecting your finances during divorce or separation

More information

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MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free, impartial help for all your money and pension choices. Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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