WTF is…financial abuse?

In money coaching we talk a lot about taking responsibility for your own money matters and making positive changes in your own habits.  But what happens if someone is controlling you by controlling your access to money?  Financial abuse is a lesser known form of abuse which can take place in intimate relationships, in exploitation of older or more vulnerable people – and can happen to people of any gender in any form of relationship.

Financial abuse (also known as economic abuse) is when someone uses access to money as a form of power and control over someone else – and it is distressingly commonplace.  A 2020 report from Refuge and the Co-operative Bank found that one in five people in the UK have experienced financial abuse.  Victims can be women or men (on average 60% female, 40% male).  This abuse is often committed alongside other forms of abuse, forming a pattern of bullying and intimidating control.

Victims of financial abuse – like victims of other forms of abuse – exist across the spectrum of society.  They can seem to be wealthy, or poor.  Young or elderly.  Female, male or non-binary.  A third of survivors of financial abuse suffer in silence and are not able to seek help – not least of all because the concept of financial abuse is relatively unknown.


Financial abuse can continue even when the survivor leaves

Sadly, abusers can still perpetuate the abuse even after a survivor manages to escape.  This can be seen when an abuser uses court processes to try to bankrupt the survivor – for example by contesting any court ruling against them, or by numerous legal proceedings in family court.

By forcing an ex-spouse to spend money on legal fees and proceedings, the abuser is effectively permitted by the court to continue their controlling behaviour by denying the survivor the ability to save and invest their own money.  This has devastating and traumatic events on adults, as well as any children involved in the disputes.


How can I recognise financial abuse?

Honestly, it’s not easy, but some warning signs might be:

  • Being told how to spend your money, or stopping you from spending it;
  • Being forced to give up work and be dependent on your partner;
  • Being prevented from going to college or university;
  • Having to disclose your log-in details, bank cards or PIN numbers for your accounts;
  • Someone spending money that has been allocated for bills and necessities;
  • Someone insisting on managing your money, by transferring assets into their name, but keeping debts and bills in your name;
  • Being forced to constantly ask for money, or an ‘allowance’ and made to justify every purchase;
  • Being denied access to information, like joint bank accounts or credit cards;
  • Withholding of child maintenance payments.

The underlying theme is someone is forcing you into a financial situation that you don’t like and can’t easily escape.  Abusers can be charismatic and charming – and are skilled at making survivours (and people around them) think that they are actually the problem.


Is financial abuse a crime?

Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse and coercive control.  Some aspects of financial abuse are criminal offices, such as:

  • Taking out money or getting loans in your name without your knowledge or permission;
  • Forcing you to hand over your accounts;
  • Adding their name to your account without permission.


Unfortunately, there are currently so many gaps in UK law that financial abusers can exploit these gaps, and worse, justify their actions.


Where can I get more information?

These organisations provide support in the UK.  If you are elsewhere, search for ‘financial abuse support’ or ‘economic abuse support’ in your local area.

Refuge – for women and children survivors of domestic abuse:

Respect – Men’s Advice Line:

Age UK:

Ann Craft Trust – supporting disabled children and adults at risk:


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