Economic abuse and the Domestic Abuse Act

The information on this page relates to the Domestic Abuse Act for England and Wales.

The effects of economic abuse can be life-changing, but this form of abuse has never before been recognised in law.  

The Domestic Abuse Act includes economic abuse for the first time and has the potential to bring change for victims and survivors. 

What is the Domestic Abuse Act?

“I am completely broke and broken. I have no food for my child. I can’t pay my rent or my bills. We sit in the dark in our coats with hot water bottles because I can’t afford gas and electricity. I’m totally isolated and full of shame and guilt.”

The Domestic Abuse Act contains new measures to protect victim-survivors of domestic abuse. It gives a legal definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse, and creates a Domestic Abuse Commissioner role to monitor the government’s response to domestic abuse.

It also states that post-separation abuse will become part of the existing controlling or coercive behaviour offence.

What difference will it make? 

1. The Act recognises economic abuse 

Economic abuse is recognised in law for the very first time.  

The Act recognises that domestic abuse can be (but is not limited to):  

  • psychological abuse 
  • physical abuse 
  • sexual abuse 
  • emotional abuse 
  • economic abuse 

Economic abuse often occurs in the context of intimate partner violence. It involves the control of a partner or ex-partner’s money and finances, as well as the things that money can buy.

Economic abuse can include exerting control over income, spending, bank accounts, bills and borrowing. It can also include controlling access to and use of things like transport and technology, which allow us to work and stay connected, as well as property and daily essentials like food and clothing. It can include destroying items and refusing to contribute to household costs.  

This type of abuse can continue long after a leaving and can have lifelong effects, preventing victims from rebuilding their lives.

2. The Act defines economic abuse 

The Act defines economic abuse as any behaviour that has a substantial and adverse effect on an individual’s ability to: 

  • acquire, use or maintain money or other property (such as a mobile phone or car) or  
  • obtain goods (such as food and clothing) or services (such as utilities, like heating)

This definition means that everyone will have the same understanding of what economic abuse is.

The Act will not make economic abuse a crime in its own right. However, it means that the police and other statutory agencies should now be aware of economic abuse and would therefore be more likely to consider it as a form of controlling or coercive behaviour.  

3. The Act recognises abuse that takes place post-separation

SEA led the successful call for the Domestic Abuse Act to recognise domestic abuse that takes place post-separation. The Act extends the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to cover post-separation abuse. This amendment to the offence is due to come into force in spring 2023.

We have an FAQ with further information about the post-separation abuse amendment.

4. The Act raises awareness of economic abuse 

The inclusion of economic abuse in the legal definition of domestic abuse helps raise awareness of it.  

Domestic abuse has long been understood to include forms of physical violence. Economic abuse does not ‘leave bruises’, and so it often goes unnoticed.  

The change to the law may help people become more aware of the signs of economic abuse, so it can be recognised earlier.  

5. The Act will help transform responses to economic abuse 

Services such as the police, housing and social services will need to consider how they respond to economic abuse.  

As part of recognising and responding to the needs of ‘vulnerable customers’, many companies that have contact with victims and survivors of economic abuse are already doing this. Several banks and building societies, for example, are training their staff and reviewing policies and procedures that can inadvertently facilitate economic abuse.  

6. The Act will help victims access justice 

The Act will help hold perpetrators of economic abuse to account so that victims can access justice.  

The government has committed to updating: 

  • the legal guidance on the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour so that it references economic abuse 
  • relevant legal guidance for prosecutors to ensure cases of economic abuse can be prosecuted 

Police training is also being updated to support officers to identify and respond to economic abuse.  

“I often wonder how I got here. I got married to this charming man in the legal profession and we had children. But it was after I got married that I was systematically and unwittingly socially isolated, psychologically, emotionally, financially abused and controlled.”

Last updated April 2022

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.