Campaign by Co-op bank and charity Refuge aims to raise awareness of issue whereby one partner controls or exploits the other’s finances
Osborne, H. (10 December 2015). The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/dec/10/almost-one-five-uk-adults-suffer-financial-abuse
Almost one in five UK adults have suffered control or exploitation of their finances by a partner, according to a report published to launch a campaign against “financial abuse”.
A survey of more than 4,000 people found that 18% had been a victim of financial abuse in a current or former relationship, and that a third of those affected had never told anyone what was happening. Half of the victims said a partner had made significant financial decisions without consulting them, or forced them to ask permission to spend or show evidence of having done so.
Six in 10 of those reporting abuse were female, although victims spanned all gender, age and income groups. For women reporting experience of the problem, the abuse tended to start at key life stages: 71% said it was when they moved in with a partner, 75% said it was when they got married, and 30% when they had children. Among men the figures were 28%, 25% and 30% respectively.
The research, commissioned by Co-operative Bank and the domestic violence charity Refuge, marks the start of a campaign by the two organisations to raise awareness of the issue and encourage financial institutions to better support victims.
Refuge said it had seen cases where victims were forced to provide receipts for all spending, or given such small allowances that they could not afford to buy food for themselves and their children. One victim quoted in the report said they had been “utterly entrapped, financially trapped. You look back on it and think well why would you do that? It’s so hard to explain it, it’s so subtle I suppose.” Another admitted: “I felt abused but I would never have said it was abuse because I didn’t think it was valid – because he hadn’t hit me.”
The My Money, My Life campaign wants the government to support an industry-wide agreement to identify and address banking practices that fail to help victims of financial abuse in relationships.
Co-op bank said victims of financial abuse were often unable to open bank accounts post-separation because they did not have the right ID, and that some paper-based account management processes put people at risk of being found by partners they were trying to escape.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: “For women who report that they have experienced financial abuse, money can be a matter of life and death. It can mean the difference between being trapped with a violent and dangerous abuser, or escaping to a place of safety.
“Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence and the consequences of this type of abuse can be both devastating and long-lasting.”
Sarah Pennells, the founder of money website SavvyWoman.co.uk, said she had heard from dozens of women whose partners had run up debts on joint accounts when the relationship was ending or forged their signature and left them with thousands of pounds of debt.
“Financial abuse is a real problem and one that many banks are reluctant to recognise,” she said. “There are steps that banks can and should take, such as changing a joint account so that both partners have to agree to any money being taken out or an overdraft extended, but all too often they don’t offer to help.”
Co-op bank said it would work with other banks to develop a code of practice for financial institutions so there was a consistent response to the disclosure of financial abuse, develop awareness-raising materials for customers, and train staff to respond appropriately and refer customers to specialist support.