All About Financial Abuse

Cara Bradley

Written by

Cara Bradley

5 min read

Updated: 24/05/2024

It’s estimated that one in five women and one in seven men have experienced financial abuse at the hands of a current or previous partner. Sadly, financial control is rarely an isolated form of coercion, with 95% of women reporting it alongside domestic abuse.
Worryingly, it’s thought that financial abuse is on the rise, but what exactly is it, and how can you spot the warning signs to protect yourself and your loved ones?

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is when somebody uses money and/or your financial situation to control, threaten, or exert power over you.
According to the Law Society, those who require additional day-to-day support are most at risk from financial abuse, but it’s important to remember that it can happen to anybody, of any sex or age, in any situation. Financial abuse doesn’t just occur between couples in romantic relationships; it can also take place within friendships, families, and care settings.

What are the signs of financial abuse?

Abusers may do one, some, or all of the following:

  • Take control of your finances. This could be in the form of only allowing you a certain amount of money each week, or closely monitoring your spending habits by looking at your bank transactions and asking you to provide receipts.
  • Restrict your access to your account(s). They may change your log in details without your permission.
  • Pressure you into making financial decisions that you’re not comfortable with.
  • Dictate how much or how little you work.
  • Make you pay for everything, while they either keep their own money to themselves or don’t go to work at all.
  • Borrow money in the form of loans and credit cards in your name without your consent. This is even more risky if they then get into debt, as this will affect your credit score.
  • Withhold financial information from you, such as bills.
  • Take your money. They may steal funds behind your back or offer to buy essentials and then keep the money or spend it on something else.
  • Insist on having a joint account or adding their name to your existing account.

As with all types of abuse, the signs can be varied and complex. You may be unaware that these things are happening to you, and you might not want to believe that your abuser is displaying these behaviours with malicious intent.
As a rule, if someone’s actions make you feel anxious, uncomfortable, or constricted, you should take a step back from the situation and seek advice from a trusted family member, friend, GP, or outside organisation. You don’t have to face this alone.

We’ll provide details of charities and organisations who can offer help and support further down the page.

What to do if you think you might be being financially abused

Unfortunately, only two out of every five financial abuse victims recognise the signs from the offset of their relationship.

Abusers can be very clever in the way that they often manipulate their victims into believing that they somehow deserve the treatment they’re receiving. For example, they may try to convince you that you’re useless with money, and therefore need, or should even be grateful for, their input.
Please know that this is NOT true, and controlling behaviour is not acceptable under ANY circumstances.

When you’re dealing with abuse head on, it can be hard to see and think clearly. One thing that could help to put things into perspective is to imagine how you’d react if a loved one told you that they were dealing with a similar situation.

  • What would you think?
  • What would you say?
  • What would you advise them to do?
  • Would you consider the behaviours they’re experiencing to be okay?

When weighing up what to do next, you must remember that your safety is the most important thing, and you should not attempt to do anything that could put you at risk.
Here are some steps you may wish to consider to regaining control of your money:

  1. Alert a close friend or family member to your situation so that they can look out for you. You may choose to keep a bag of essentials at their house or in their car, in the event that you need to make a quick getaway.
  2. Speak with a helpline, either on the phone or through live chat or email. The trained advisors will guide you through your options moving forwards and help you set a plan in place. We’ve added a list of organisations to the bottom of the page, which we hope you will find useful.
  3. If possible, try to set aside some money just for you. Don’t worry if it isn’t a large amount – simply having access to your own money could provide an emergency fund should you need it.
  4. Contact your bank, either online or in branch, and ask to speak to a member of their Financial Abuse team. These are specialised staff trained to listen and provide support for your situation, including protecting your account with additional security measures.
  5. Change the passwords and PINs for your online banking account(s).
  6. Remove all stored card details from retail sites or other websites.

Again, the above steps should only be taken if and when you feel it’s safe to do so.

Signs that may suggest that somebody might be being financially abused

  • They seem anxious when spending money.
  • They’re very particular in asking for receipts after every purchase, even for the smallest transactions.
  • They suddenly reduce their working hours or quit their job. On the other hand, they might up their hours or take on additional work. They might not be able to explain the reason for these decisions.
  • They frequently cancel plans that involve spending money, such as a meal out at a restaurant.
  • They advise that their partner/ family member/ carer won’t let them or isn’t happy with them going out. They may even have a seemingly genuine excuse for this, for example, “We’re saving for a new kitchen, so I’d better give it a miss.”
  • In turn, the above may lead to them becoming isolated. They might completely withdraw from you and social situations.

Please note that the above examples do not automatically point to financial abuse and could simply mean that your loved one is experiencing monetary difficulties or going through a personal crisis. In the next section, we’re going to cover how best to start a conversation with somebody you’re worried about.

What to do if you think someone you know is being financially abused

It can be difficult to know what to do for the best when reaching out to someone you suspect is being abused.

  • Suggest a meet-up in a safe space that doesn’t involve money, such as a walk in the park, or a relaxed, cooked meal at your house, and see if your loved one is willing to share what’s on their mind.
  • Be patient; they may not feel like opening up straight away. They may instead choose to ‘drip feed’ you snippets of information to gage your reaction.
  • Remember that sometimes, people aren’t looking for a solution to their problems, just a safe place to talk openly without the fear of being judged.
  • While it can be difficult not to lose your temper while talking about the abuser, remaining neutral is imperative. Don’t forget – the abuser is likely to have some degree of hold over their victim, and it’s not uncommon for the victim to defend the abuser or try to justify their actions.
  • It’s natural for emotions to run high in these situations but try to remain calm. Saying things like, “I can’t believe you’re putting up with this!” is not a constructive approach and could result in your loved one retreating further into themselves.
  • Regularly check in with your loved one, even if they don’t respond. Remind them that you’re there for them if and whenever they need you.
  • Provide them with a list of relevant resources (we’ve included some below), but be sure to establish a ‘safe’ form of communication beforehand. For instance, if the abuser is in the habit of regularly going through their victim’s phone, texting them an array of domestic abuse helpline numbers could put them at risk.

As frustrating and heartbreaking as it is to watch somebody you care about be treated unfairly, you must accept that there is nothing you can personally do to break the cycle. Your loved one must come to this conclusion on their own – but it will be easier for them to do this when surrounded by the support of good friends and family.

Help is ALWAYS on hand

Whatever you’re facing, help is always available.
You can access free, round-the-clock support and advice from a range of organisations, some of which we have listed below.

  • Charity Surviving Economic Abuse has a comprehensive website with a wealth of information for both those going through it first hand, or via a loved one.
  • The Financial Support Line for Victims of Domestic Abuse has been set up in partnership with charities Surviving Economic Abuse and Money Advice Plus. You can contact them from Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, on 0808 196 8845.
  • Women’s charity Refuge have an entire section on their website dedicated to financial abuse, which you can find here. You can call them for free, regarding all type of abuse and any worries you have, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 0808 20000 247. Refuge also has a live chat function*.
  • Men affected by domestic abuse can call Respect Men’s Advice Line on Monday to Friday between 10am and 5pm. Calls are free from both mobile and landlines in the UK. In addition to this, you can email the team for support between the same hours.
  • This page on the NHS website includes further resources for those experiencing abuse.

*Check the Refuge website for the exact live chat operating times.

If you feel unsafe or in immediate danger, you should call 999.

If you’re worried about money…

Free, confidential, and impartial money and debt management is available through an array of websites, such as MoneyHelper, StepChange, National Debt Line, and Citizens Advice.

Stay strong.

Abuse in all forms can leave us feeling completely isolated. Our self-worth and confidence can hit an all-time low. Eight in ten women state their mental health has been affected by financial abuse alone.
Despite what you might have been led to believe, you are not alone, and have nothing to be ashamed of.