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. Remember to speak to a qualified debt adviser before taking any action to tackle your debts.

What is coerced debt?

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.

“I was told there was nothing that could be done as the debts were in my name, so I had to start paying them off.”

Understanding coerced debt

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

“If I didn’t have enough cash to pay for what he wanted, he would give me an ultimatum – what would cost more: to buy him what he wanted or the cost of the damage he would do when he smashed everything in sight. So I got my credit card out and ended up with £3,000 worth of debt.”

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. 

“I am not a stupid woman; this could happen to anybody.”

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

Types of coerced debt 

An abuser may have coerced you into debt in any of the following ways: 

  • making you take out a credit card or loan against your wishes 
  • making you buy something on credit against your wishes 
  • taking out a loan, mortgage or credit card in your name 
  • using your credit card 
  • using other sources of credit in your name, such as an internet account or phone 
  • putting bills in your name, including car finance agreements, mobile phone contracts or catalogue payments 
  • forcing you into a position where you need to take out credit to afford to live, for example by stealing from you, taking your wages or making you buy things. 

The nature of coerced debt means there are negative consequences for not doing as the abuser asks. Debt is the safest option. 

“He applied for multiple loans in my name by using the app on my phone. Loans for over £50,000 in total.”

Coerced debt and technology 

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.

“I was with an abusive partner for five years. Throughout the relationship he managed to get me into £30,000 worth of debt. I will be in debt for the next 20 years of my life.”

The impact of coerced debt

“He continues to thwart my ability to rent or own a property, to work, to qualify… four years after leaving him, I’m as controlled by him as I always was.”

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. 

Tackling coerced debt

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

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.


  1. Stark, E. (2007) Coercive control: How men entrap women in personal life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  2. Sharp-Jeffs, N. with Learmonth, S. (2017) Into Plain Sight: How economic abuse is reflected in successful prosecutions of controlling or coercive behavior. London: Surviving Economic Abuse.
  3. Adams, A. E., Sullivan, C. M., Bybee D., and Greeson, M. R. (2008. Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse. Violence Against Women 14(5): 563–587. 
  4. Sharp-Jeffs, N. (2015) Money Matters: Research into the extent and nature of financial abuse within intimate partner relationships in the UK. London: Refuge and The Cooperative Bank. 
  5. Surviving Economic Abuse, (2019), Midterm Report of the Economic Justice Project. 
  6. Littwin, A. (2012) Coerced Debt: The Role of Consumer Credit in Domestic