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Financial abuse: spotting the signs and leaving safely

Everyone has the right to make independent financial decisions. If your partner, family member, carer or anybody else is controlling your financial affairs, then this is financial abuse. Always remember you are not alone. There are places to go for help and support and things you can do.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse and is a way of having power over you. It involves someone else controlling your spending or access to cash, assets and finances. This can leave you feeling isolated, lacking in confidence and trapped.

Sometimes (but not always) financial abuse will be recognised by the police as coercive or controlling behaviour, which is also a criminal offence.

Financial abuse can take different forms and can happen to anyone of any age. Abusers can be partners, family members or others, such as carers. 

Financial abuse is often part of wider economic abuse.

Economic abuse can include:

  • stopping you from going to work, college or university,
  • causing you to lose out on benefits by not letting you go to appointments at the Jobcentre or apply for jobs, and 
  • controlling your access to essential things, such as food, clothing or transport.

Spotting the signs of financial abuse

Sometimes it can take a long time to realise you are being financially abused or for you to label what is happening as ‘abuse’. But if you feel uncomfortable about the way that someone you know is behaving with your money, they may be financially abusing you. Our list can help you identify if that is what’s happening.

Financial abuse can be when someone:

  • forces you to take out money or get credit in your name 
  • makes you hand over control of your accounts - this could include changing your login details
  • cashes in your pension or other cheques without your permission
  • adds their name to your account
  • pressures you to change your will in a way you’re not comfortable with
  • has offered to buy shopping or pay bills with your money, but takes it, and doesn’t use the money how you agreed
  • asks you prove what you’ve spent your money on
  • stops you accessing your bank, loan or credit card accounts
  • controls what you can and can’t spend your money on
  • sets up Direct Debits from your account to pay bills which aren’t yours or pay for goods and services which you haven’t bought
  • pressures you to arrange for your benefits to be paid into a bank account you don’t have access to
  • pressures you to draw down, transfer or stop making pension payments
  • makes you take out new insurance policies or stops you paying your existing ones. 

Be aware of tech abuse

  • If you think your abuser is monitoring your devices, try and access help on a computer or phone they don’t have access to at work, in a library or by borrowing a friend’s. Find out more about spyware and tech safety from RefugeOpens in a new window
  • Pictures, messages and other files from your mobile phone are often automatically stored in the cloud. It’s wise to change your password so your abuser can’t log in and access them.

If you’re worried that a friend or family member could be a victim of financial abuse, Surviving Economic Abuse has a guide to spotting the signs for friends and familyOpens in a new window

Where you can get support and advice

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

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.

If you aren’t able to contact any of the services below, your GP or other NHS healthcare provider will be able to talk to you in confidence about abuse and the help that’s available.

National helplines and services

Domestic Abuse

Financial Support Line for Victims of Domestic Abuse: call for dedicated support on 0808 196 8845.

Find more information and opening hours on the Money Advice Plus siteOpens in a new window

Hestia: the Hestia’s Bright Sky app has practical support and informationOpens in a new window on how to respond to domestic abuse.

Nour: find Islamic support and advice for victims of domestic abuseOpens in a new window by email on the Nour site.

Karma Nirvana: for victims of honour-based abuse or forced marriage. You can call them on 0800 5999 247 for support.

Women’s Aid: get help and support if you’re experiencing financial abuseOpens in a new window on the Women’s Aid site. Talk to them using the Women’s Aid online chatOpens in a new window or call the freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 200 0247 or talk to someone onlineOpens in a new window

Rights of Women: free legal advice for women including family law and immigration advice. You can call them on 020 7251 6577.

Council or Housing Association tenants can contact their landlord for support.  A lot of social housing organisations provide support and have partnered with local agencies to help victims of domestic abuse.

Surviving Economic Abuse: find specialist help and support for financial and economic abuse, as well as a survivor forumOpens in a new window on the Surviving Economic Abuse site.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT)

For emotional and practical support for LGBT+ people, visit their switchboard helplineOpens in a new window

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

Men's Advice Line

Call the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327. They offer emotional support, practical advice and can let you know about other services for specialist help. Or visit the Men’s Advice Line websiteOpens in a new window

Older people

Age UK: visit the Age UK advice pageOpens in a new window

Call the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 678 1602, lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year.

Hourglass: call their helpline on 0808 808 8141. Visit their website to find text, webchat and email contact detailsOpens in a new window

Regional helplines and services

Wales

Northern Ireland

Visit the Northern Ireland Woman's Aid websiteOpens in a new window or call the Freephone 24-Hour Domestic & Sexual Abuse Helpline on 0808 802 1414.

Scotland

Did you know?

If you need support and advice, many high street pharmacies – including Boots, Superdrug, Well and Morrisons – have made pharmacy consultation rooms available as safe spaces for people experiencing domestic abuse who need to get help in total confidence. 

Some pharmacies have ‘Ask for ANI’ signs, ANI stands for Action Needed Immediately, and it sounds like the name Annie. If you say this to a member of staff, they should offer you a private space, access to a phone and information about further support. TSB banks also offer a similar service. 

How to leave safely

If you want to leave an abusive situation and it’s safe for you to do so, there are things you can do to make sure that you’re safe and could help you take control of your finances:

  • make a safety planOpens in a new window in case you need to leave your home in an emergency.
  • keep a record of the abuse you have experienced if you can – what happened and when and where. 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
  • contact a family law solicitor. Legal Aid is available to help with costsOpens in a new window if you or your children are victims of abuse.
  • gather important documents (see below) before you need to leave.

Take or copy important documents

If you want to get away from an abusive situation, try to gather important paperwork before you leave. You might need some of these documents to claim Legal Aid or access other support if you’re opening your own bank account, separating from a partner or claiming benefits. 

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 or civil partnership 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 or any other photographic ID
  • any insurance policy documents
  • loan documents that are in your name or in joint names.
  • rental agreements that are in your name or in joint names.
  • details of any insurance policies, including home and life assurance that are in your name or in joint names.

If it’s not safe for you to take these documents but you can access them, you could try to:

  • make photocopies
  • download digital documents
  • take pictures on your mobile 
  • write down key numbers, such as your National Insurance number, bank or building society account numbers.
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Pictures, messages and other files from your mobile phone will often be automatically stored in the Cloud. It’s wise to change your password and use two-factor authentication so your abuser can’t access them.

Where to get cash in an emergency

If you have to leave in a hurry and don’t have access to cash, contact one of the organisations that support people escaping domestic abuse to see if they can help you with emergency support.

Find out if you can claim benefits

If your income is now low and you have savings of less than £16,000 you may qualify for Universal Credit, which can include payments for children and housing costs. 

There is extra support available if you’ve been a recent victim of domestic abuse (including financial abuse). You’ll need to provide evidence from a professional (for example: the police, a healthcare professional or charity that is supporting you). 

It’s best to claim as soon as you can as it takes five weeks before you get your first payment. If you’ll struggle for money, you could get a Universal Credit advance of up to one month’s worth of payments. You’ll have to pay the advance back out of future Universal Credit payments.

If you live in England, find help for victims of domestic violence and abuse from the Department for Work and PensionsOpens in a new window for benefits housing and child support at GOV.UK.

If you’re already receiving benefits, you may qualify for a Budgeting Loan or Budgeting Advance if you’re getting Universal Credit to help cover immediate expenses.

See if you qualify for a charitable grant

Many of the organisations listed in the Where to get support and advice section of this guide can offer small grants to help you escape abuse.

You can also try the Turn2Us grants checkerOpens in a new window

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Rail to Refuge scheme

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales and need to leave an abusive relationship but have no money to get away, the Rail to Refuge scheme will pay travel costs to get you to a refuge. The service is open to women, children and men fleeing domestic violence.

You will need to get in touch with one of the domestic abuse agencies in the Women’s Aid network first. If you need to find a refuge, they’ll let you know once a vacancy is confirmed.

The refuge will book a free train ticket for you and any children travelling with you.

They will send either an e-ticket to your mobile phone or a collection code so you can pick up the ticket at any rail station using a debit or credit card.

The ticket will look normal. There will be nothing on it to say you’re fleeing domestic abuse.

 

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