Your safety
Only take the actions below if it is safe to do so. You are the best judge of whether making any changes might lead to further harm. In an emergency, call 999.

Economic abuse and pensions

The information on this page relates to England and Wales.

If you have experienced economic abuse, the abuser may try to use your pension to make you vulnerable in later life.

Economic abuse and pensions

There are many ways an abuser could use your pension to perpetrate economic abuse. This could affect your economic safety in later life.

Abusive tactics involving pensions may include:

  • having your pension paid into an account they control
  • forcing or coercing you into withdrawing part or all of your pension
  • using your pension on other expenses, such as renovating the house, while keeping their pension for themselves
  • exploiting your dependency on them, if they have a higher pension
  • keeping information about finances and pensions a secret.  

An abuser may also restrict, exploit, or sabotage the money you receive in your pension.

An abuser may use these tactics to limit the pension pot that you have. This can make you dependent on the abuser or limit your freedom in later life.

“I was so proud of myself. I was earning and putting away for my twilight years…Yet, as he controlled the payments, he told me it had to stop paying into it! We argued about it and he said that he would continue with the payments. I met up with a friend this year from school and he was talking about early retirement and I thought I had to take a look at my pension. I was heartbroken, he had not done what he’d said. My pension is a quarter of what it should be.”

Pension inequality

“The average pension pot for a 65-year-old woman is one-fifth of a man’s, thanks, in part, to domestic and caring responsibilities.” *

Women’s pensions can be significantly smaller for a number of reasons, including: 

  • having a lower-paid job 
  • not reaching the auto-enrolment threshold, which starts with a salary of £10,000 
  • taking time out for maternity leave and childcare 
  • taking time out to care for aging parents or vulnerable family members.   

Your pension age will depend on the year you were born. Since 2010, the state pension ages have been changing. You can check your state pension age on the government website.

“With not working and being the main caregiver to my twins, I have missed out on seven years of employment and pension growth. I have now around £10K left from my life savings, which is all going on my legal fees for my divorce. I will go into debt before my court case but I will keep fighting on.”

Types of pension

State pensions

The state pension amount you will receive depends on your National Insurance (NI) contributions. You can check how much you are likely to receive on the government website

If you are widowed, you could substitute your late partner’s NI record for your own. If they had a full record of contributions, this would mean you qualify for 100% of the basic state pension.

If you are divorced when you reach state pension age, you can substitute your ex-partner’s NI record for your own, up to the point of your divorce. If you divorce later in life, doing this could mean you qualify for a full basic state pension. You will no longer have this option if you later remarry. You can use the government website to find out how much you would receive.

Substituting your ex-partner’s National Insurance record can involve getting a court order. It may be more difficult if you do not want any contact with them.

Private pensions

There are two main types of private pensions:

  • Defined contribution — based on how much you and your employer pay in
  • Defined benefit — based on your salary and how long you have worked for your employer.

Private pensions tend to be a more common source of economic abuse. If the abuser is a higher earner, they will have a larger private pension pot. This could be a barrier to leaving. The abuser may tell you that you will not be able to pay for housing, essentials and medical care in later life without them. The abuser may also hide the value of their pension from you.

Pension freedoms 

‘Pension freedoms’ allows people over the age of 55 to withdraw their ‘defined contribution’ pensions as one lump sum or in number of payments.  

This could give you more freedom over when and how you spend your pension. However, it could also put your financial security in later life at risk. An abuser could coerce you into withdrawing your whole pension pot or a portion of it under the pension freedoms rules. This could leave you with little money of your own in retirement and could make you feel dependent on the abuser. It could also affect any benefits you receive.

Divorce and separation

“I felt in a position to start financially planning again — beyond just living month to month. I have sorted my pension out, with the help of a financial adviser.”

If you were married to the abuser and get a divorce, there are a number of ways in which your pensions could be shared or split. 

Pension rules and divorce laws are complex, and can vary depending on your circumstances. It is important to speak to a financial advisor before making any decisions about your pension after divorce.

If you feel safe to do so, telling them that you have experienced domestic abuse can help. They may be able to suggest ways of de-linking your pension or other finances from those of the abuser. They can also suggest ways to keep new banking and pension information safe and secure to help prevent further abuse. 

An abuser may try to prevent you from accessing a pension. They may send aggressive emails to the professionals involved in arranging your pension agreement. They may delay paying necessary fees. The process may take time, but you should not have to be in contact with the abuser if their pension is included in divorce proceedings.

Advice Now also has a guide on pensions and divorce.

Ways to manage pensions after divorce include:

Pension sharing order
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A pension sharing order means you get a percentage of one or more of your ex-partner’s pensions. It can be transferred into a pension in your name or you can join your ex-partner’s pension scheme.

A pension sharing order does not mean you will have to maintain any contact with your ex-partner.

There is also an option called ‘deferred pension sharing’. This may be an option for you if your ex-partner is already retired but you are still too young to receive a pension.

Pension offsetting
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Pension offsetting means the value of the pension is offset against other assets.

For example, you could keep the family home, or a larger share of it, in return for your ex-partner keeping all of their pension. Without knowing the value of your ex-partner’s pension, however, this can be a very unequal split.

It is a much more common choice, as people believe it makes it easier to have a ‘clean break’, or they may not feel entitled to a portion of their ex-partner’s pension (despite their legal entitlement).

Deferred lump sum
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A deferred lump sum means you will get a single lump sum payment from your ex-partner’s pension when they retire, if they are not already retired.

Pension attachment order
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With a pensions attachment order, you can receive some of your ex-partner’s pension income, a lump sum or both, when they start taking their pension.

An abuser may maintain more control in this scenario, because they can decide when to start drawing their pension.

Individual agreement
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You and your ex-partner could come to an agreement that does not involve sharing pensions. This will need to be legally documented.

It is crucial that any legal professionals you are working with understand that you may have been coerced into making an agreement if you are experiencing economic abuse. You should seek legal and financial advice before taking this option.

If you or the abuser have already retired, the options for managing pensions may be different.

The Money Helper website has more information on the different options for managing pensions if you are divorcing.

‘Common law marriage’ 

Marriage and civil partnerships provide you with certain legal rights, including the ability to claim some of your ex-partner’s pension if you separate. A marriage ends with divorce, whereas a civil partnership ends in dissolution.  

Many people believe that if they have been living together for a certain number of years, they are in a ‘common law marriage’. This is a myth. Living with a partner does not grant you the legal rights of married couples if you separate. This includes rights related to pension sharing.

Finding out the value of your pension 

Only you can ask for a valuation of your pension. Your partner or ex-partner may try to coerce you into telling them the value. They may do this if you are the higher earner, or to scare you if the value of your pension is low.

You can ask your pension provider for the ‘cash equivalent transfer value’ for divorce purposes.

Getting pensions advice

“In terms of my own retirement, I have had no financial advice and feel this would be absolutely necessary for survivors of abuse, as we need someone we can trust to ask questions.”

The Pensions Advice Allowance lets you take £500 from a defined contribution pension or ‘hybrid’ pension arrangement and use it to pay for financial advice about retirement.

If you’re over 50 and have a personal pension, no matter how small, you can also get free advice from Pension Wise. If it is safe to do so, it may be helpful to tell them that you have experienced economic abuse.

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* Bishee, D., Daly, T., & Price, D. (2013). Behind Closed Doors: Older Couples and the Gendered Management of Household Money. Social Policy and Society.

*With special thanks to Paul Cobley and Debora Price for their expertise.

Last updated March 2023

Further support 

If you are experiencing economic abuse, you are not alone. We have more information that can support you to take steps towards safety and begin to regain control of your finances.