Being in debt can be extremely worrying for anyone, especially if the debt has been caused by an abusive partner.
If you have been forced to make transactions that led you into debt, or if you have had debts fraudulently built up in your name, this resource is for you. It provides information about this type of debt – known as coerced debt – and the possible solutions.
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Domestic abuse takes many forms and does not always involve the use of physical violence. Some abusers repeatedly dictate their partner’s choices and control their everyday actions, becoming violent or threatening to become violent if their demands are refused. This pattern of behaviour is a form of abuse known as coercive control.
Coercive control is a way of intimidating, isolating and controlling someone,1 and is almost always perpetrated by a male abuser against a female victim.2
An abuser may restrict or control how you acquire, use and maintain money and economic resources, including accommodation, food and clothing.3 This is known as economic abuse, and it is commonly experienced within the context of coercive control.
Forcing or coercing someone into debt is a common form of economic abuse.
If you have been coerced into debt by an abusive partner, you are not alone. Coerced debt is very common.
One study suggests that 1 in 10 women has had debts put in her name and was afraid to say no.4 It is even more common among those who have experienced other forms of domestic violence.
In SEA’s work with women who have experienced domestic violence, 50 per cent said they had been made to take out a loan or buy something on credit when they did not want to. 43 per cent said that their partner had built up debt in their name. 33 per cent said that their partner had taken out a loan or bought something using credit in their name without their permission.5
An abuser may have coerced you into debt in any of the following ways:
The nature of coerced debt means there are negative consequences for not doing as the abuser asks. Debt is the safest option.
Advances in technology have made banking more accessible. For example, it is often possible to apply for or extend a credit agreement online or using a banking app.
Access to credit through technology can, however, make it easier for an abuser to coerce someone to take out credit.
It is much harder for a lender to know if someone is being forced to take out credit when an application is made online.
Refuge’s Tech Safety website has more information that may be useful.
Perpetrators of economic abuse often use debt to gain power and control over their partner.
Being in debt can cause financial instability and make you dependent on the abuser.
Any available money is often spent paying back debts, which can leave you without the means to leave and live independently. For example, you may not be able to afford a deposit for a place to stay, or may not have the train or bus fare needed to leave. Coerced debt can, therefore, put your safety at risk and trap you in a relationship with the abuser.
Abusers often use controlling behaviour in relation to the debt. This may include hiding the extent of the debt or refusing to let you pay on time, if at all.6 Coerced debt is, therefore, linked to credit damage, which can have long-term effects.
Depending on your situation, there are a number of possible solutions to coerced debt. There are advantages and disadvantages to each debt solution. The right option will depend on your circumstances.
It is important to seek debt advice before taking any action. If you have been coerced into debt by an abusive partner, a qualified debt adviser can talk you through the options available to you based on your specific situation.
There are a number of organisations that you can contact for support, information and advice if you have been coerced into debt. See our resource on Organisations that can help for the full list.
Last updated September 2021
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.
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