What is financial abuse? And how to protect yourself

Sadly, abuse can take shape in many different forms. While physical, emotional and psychological abuse may spring to mind, financial abuse, otherwise known as economic abuse, is another serious offence. According to charity Refuge, 8.7 million people reported experiencing economic abuse in 2020 – and 1.6 million saw this begin due to the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know and how to protect yourself.

Definition of financial abuse

Like other types of abuse, economic or financial abuse causes a victim to feel isolated and powerless over time. Perpetrators tend to include partners, ex-partners or family members.

Legally, it’s defined as:

“Any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on another person’s to –

  1. Acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or
  2. Obtain goods or services”

Types of financial abuse

Financial abuse can materialise in many ways, including:

  • Controlling access to money
  • Stealing money or belongings
  • Borrowing money without repaying someone
  • Forcing someone to make changes in wills, property or inheritance
  • Forcing someone to sell their home or assets without consent

An abuser might go behind a victim’s back by forging their signature or take an upfront approach by coercing financial decisions more openly.

Signs and red flags

A victim may notice financial transactions without a clear or valid explanation, or find themselves being increasingly excluded from financial decisions. They might also be unable to access or check bank accounts. Some signs are harder to spot than others – and acting on them can feel extremely difficult.

Legal and ethical aspects

Financial abuse is recognised as a form of domestic abuse under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, making it a criminal offence. Local authorities have statutory safeguarding duties when it comes to adults in their area being at risk of abuse, such as financial abuse. Some victims may consult a domestic abuse lawyer to obtain legal guidance on how to seek support or resolve the situation

Financial abuse poses great ethical concerns as it can prevent victims from escaping uncomfortable situations, depriving them of their autonomy. Victims might not be able to get safe housing or provide for their children, essentially rendering them trapped.

Protecting yourself

So, how can you protect yourself from financial abuse? Ensuring you have a financial safety plan is a good place to start.

Where possible, use separate bank accounts from your partner so you have access to an ‘emergency fund’ that helps to uphold your financial independence. Keep your bank details secure too, and remain diligent when signing contracts so you understand what future implications could be.

Remember to seek support from reliable individuals or organisations if needed. Often, those who are socially isolated are the most at risk from financial abuse, so maintaining strong support networks is important. Otherwise, knowing where to seek emergency financial support can be helpful, whether this is a grant or local welfare assistance.

Charity helplines include Money Advice Plus, which you can contact on 08081 968 845, as well as Refuge, who have a live chat.

Seeking legal advice about domestic abuse from expert solicitors means you can open the door to a new chapter in your life. Financial abuse is a sensitive topic, and reaching out to a professional domestic abuse solicitor is a good way to ensure you’ll receive the support you need.

Asking for help might feel daunting, but it could change your life for the better.

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