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Taking back control after financial abuse

Recognising financial abuse

Financial abuse can take different forms and can happen to anyone of any age in any type of relationship. Abusers can be partners, family members or others, such as carers. If you believe you’re being financially abused by someone, read our guide Financial abuse: spotting the signs and leaving safely.

Opening a new current or savings account

You might want to open a new bank or building society account in your name only to separate your money from your abuser. 

If you have a low credit score that’s stopping you from opening a new account, you may be able to able to get a fee-free basic bank account

If you’re still living at the same address as the person you want to separate your finances from, your bank will do all it can to support you in setting up an account with a different correspondence address. This means letters or statements won’t go to your home address. Letters can be sent care of any branch too.

Remember, some letters, such as those dealing with mortgages or legal terms and conditions, may still have to go to your original home address. Speak to your bank to see what the options are.

Documents you will need to open a bank account

When you open a new account, it really helps if you can provide photo identification (for example, a passport or driving licence) and an alternative address, which is why you should try to keep hold of some of the important documents if you can. 

Banks and building societies should list the documents they need on their websites. If you can’t get hold of any of these, speak to your bank to see what they will accept, for example letters from a refuge, social worker or local authority.  

See our guide Financial abuse: spotting the signs and leaving safely, for which documents you can use to open a bank account.

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Joint accounts

If you’re worried about money being taken out of your joint account without your permission, you can ask your bank or building society to only act on instructions from both of you. You don’t both need to give permission to do this.

Bear in mind the other account holder could also ask to restrict your joint account. That means you wouldn’t be able to check the account balance, use your payment card or take cash out. However, payments towards essential bills would still come out, such as utilities, or your rent or mortgage. 

Once any restrictions are in place, removing them would need both of you to agree, so think carefully about whether this is the right option for you. It might be better to close the joint account and open a new one in your name only.

If you want to close a joint account, talk to your provider about the best way to do this. This can be done with only one account holder’s instructions. 

If your joint account is overdrawn, both of you will be responsible for paying off the outstanding amount.

Keep your account passwords and security safe

You should be the only person who knows your account PIN and passwords. 

Don’t share your details with anyone, not even to take out cash or buy something on your behalf. 

If someone has your account PIN and passwords and is using them to take money out, change them as soon as it’s possible or safe for you to do so. 

If you’re not sure how to do this, use the number on the back of your credit or debit card or visit a branch to let your provider know about your situation and help you keep your details safe. This will stop your abuser having access to your personal accounts. 

If other people have access to your phone or computer, they may be able to use saved passwords to log into your accounts.

You can also talk to your provider about getting a new card and/or PIN safely delivered to a new address if you’re worried it might not be safe at the address you’re living at. 

Joint credit cards

If you have a joint credit card, one of you will usually have applied for it in just one name and be the primary cardholder.

Only the primary cardholder is responsible making payments on the card – even if the other person spends on it or has an extra card as the secondary cardholder.

If there‘s an outstanding balance on the card, the secondary cardholder won’t legally have to pay anything back. If you’re not sure who the primary cardholder is, your credit card company will be able to tell you.

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

If your abuser has the primary card that’s in your name, report the card lost or stolen so your provider can cancel it and send you a new one. 

The other person doesn’t need to return the actual credit card – it just won’t work anymore.

Checking your credit record

Whenever you use an overdraft or take out other credit (such as a credit card, mobile phone contract, catalogue account, loan, or mortgage), this is recorded on your credit report.

Credit ratings can be affected if, for example, you miss any repayments, go over your credit limits, or take out new credit.

Your personal credit rating could change because of financial abuse, particularly if your abuser has taken out credit in your name or if you’ve had a joint account, loan or mortgage – because your credit reports will be linked.

You can check how you’re financially connected to someone by accessing your free online credit report. Read our guide on How to check your credit report.

It’s helpful to know what your rating (or score) is because a low credit rating could affect your ability to apply for credit, including mortgages, and to access other services such as mobile phone contracts in your own name.

You can also use your credit report to help you track down any debts that are attached to your name.

If there are debts on joint finances, contact your creditors to let them know about your situation and try to close any accounts. Remember, you will still be liable to pay off any outstanding amounts, but this move should stop the debts increasing.

You can ask for your credit reports to be amended once all joint associations are closed. To do this, contact the three main credit reference agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) directly and submit the form provided by them.

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If you think your abuser might use your details again in future, you can ask credit reference agencies to add a password NOC (notice of correction) to your account. When this is in place, you’ll need to use the password you chose when you make any new credit applications. 

The main credit reference agencies in the UK are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, get in touch with them to add a password NOC to your account. You can also register with Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention community. They offer a Protective Registration service and will contact you to verify any account applications in your name The service costs £25 for two years’ protection.

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, but can be worth it if you’re worried your abuser could try to steal your identity.

If you’re claiming Universal Credit

If you’re worried about your partner controlling all your benefit income – and leaving you (and your children if you have them) without enough money to live on – you can speak to your work coach at the Jobcentre Plus. 

They’re trained to spot the signs of abuse and can signpost you to where you can find local help. 

If you’re still together as a couple, and it’s safe to do so, you can ask for your Universal Credit payment to be paid into your own account instead. 

If that isn’t an option, your work coach could split your joint Universal Credit payment between two accounts. That way, you’ll get money for yourself (and any children) and your partner will get a separate payment.

If you or your partner has left the family home, report this as a change of circumstances and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will re-assess your claim as a single person. 

Remember, you can ask for help from your work coach at any time and the DWP may be able to offer extra support, such as with housing costs if you need to leave your home.

Get someone you trust to help manage your money

If it’s safe to do so and you need extra support, you could 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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Paying the mortgage

If you have a joint mortgage with someone else, you’ll both still be equally responsible for the mortgage repayments. If you’re worried you won’t be able to keep up your repayments, get in touch with your lender to talk about your options. 

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

If you’re requesting changes to your mortgage, speak to your lender to see what they can do to support you. If your mortgage is in your joint names you will need to both agree to any changes. Your mortgage company will need to check whether the changes are affordable and meet other legal requirements before agreeing to them.

If you live in rented accommodation

In England, councils have the power to terminate any social housing tenancy agreement in your abuser’s name, including removing their name from a joint tenancy agreement.

Support from local authorities for victims of domestic abuse is different in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Get in touch with your local authority or housing association to see what help they can offer. 

It’s more difficult for your landlord to evict your abuser when you live in private rented housing. If you need to leave your home because of domestic abuse, Shelter has an advice page on what your options areOpens in a new window

Remember to use a benefits calculator to find out if you’re able to claim any extra financial helpOpens in a new window for housing costs if you are now paying for them on your own.

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Dealing with debts

When abusers take out loans, overdrafts or credit cards in your name, or use your property for security for a loan without your knowledge – this is fraud and is a criminal offence. If your abuser pressured you into borrowing money, this is known as coerced debt. 

Unfortunately, you are usually liable for any joint debts and being in debt can be worrying for anyone, especially if the debt has been caused by an abusive partner.

If this has happened, talk to your creditor (the people you owe money to). Lenders who have signed up to UK Finance’s Financial Abuse Code of Practice will work with you to understand your personal circumstances and discuss what support they can provide, including what to do to stop further debt from building up. 

Surviving Economic Abuse can provide practical adviceOpens in a new window to help you decide the best way to start to regain control of your finances. 

It’s important you get advice as soon as possible so your situation doesn’t get worse. Make sure you deal with any priority debts first. For example, Council Tax, gas or electricity, mortgage, rent, TV Licence, child maintenance or income tax arrears.

You might be feeling like there’s no way of getting out of this difficult situation but if you can’t face it alone, there are options that a debt adviser can talk through with you. 

Debt advice services should have a safeguarding policy which all advisers are expected to follow. If you disclose domestic abuse to your adviser, they will refer or signpost you to any further support you might need.  

There are lots of free advice services across the UK where you can find the best help for you, online, over the phone or near to where you live.

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If you decide to divorce or separate permanently

Our divorce and separation section can give you all the guidance you need when it comes to managing your finances during a relationship break-up.

It doesn’t matter what your situation is. You may be divorcing or separating; have children or not; own your home or rent; or live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. We have guides that will cover your specific situation.

You might be able to get free legal advice under the Legal Aid scheme to help pay the costs of taking action to protect you if you’re a recent victim of domestic abuse. 

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. See the list in our guide Financial abuse: spotting the signs and leaving safely.

Find out more about Legal Aid at GOV.UKOpens in a new window

Look for a solicitor who takes legal aid cases at the Law SocietyOpens in a new window

What to do if your financial services provider can’t or won’t help

If you are unhappy with the service provided by your bank, building society or credit card company, you can make a complaint directly to them, and if they don’t resolve your issue you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

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