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Prosecuting an abuser

The information on this page relates to the law in England and Wales. Our listing of other useful organisations has details of organisations that may have information relevant to other parts of the UK.

If you have experienced economic abuse, you may be able to pursue a prosecution against the abuser for controlling or coercive behaviour.

Some economically abusive behaviour may be another criminal offence, such as theft, fraud or criminal damage. However, the police may consider a pattern of economic abuse as controlling or coercive behaviour. This page focuses on pursuing a prosecution for controlling or coercive behaviour.  

“He controlled everything in my life, from the food I could eat to the people I could see. He would write me a list of errands I had to do each day and refused to carry any money because he had his own personal bank with him — me.”

What is controlling or coercive behaviour? 

Domestic abuse takes many forms. It does not always involve the use of physical violence. In 2015, controlling or coercive behaviour became a crime in England and Wales for the first time. This made it a legally recognised form of domestic abuse. 

Controlling or coercive behaviour involves:

  • one person exerting power or control over another or
  • one person coercing another to do things against their wishes.  

Guidance from the Home Office describes controlling or coercive behaviour as:  
‘an intentional pattern of behaviour that occurs on two or more occasions, or which takes place over time, in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another.’ 

It may include:  

  • physical intimidation and threats of physical or sexual violence 
  • emotional and psychological abuse, including intentionally undermining or manipulating the victim
  • controlling behaviour, such as:  
    • monitoring the victim’s daily activities, including what they eat and when they sleep, and making them account for their actions  
    • forcing or persuading the victim to do things that they are unwilling to do 
    • coercing the victim into carrying out criminal behaviour  
    • using child arrangements as a form of control  
  • restrictive behaviour, such as:
    • isolating the victim from family and friends
    • preventing the victim from accessing healthcare
    • withholding access to documents such as passports and visas 
  • threatening behaviour, such as:
    • threatening to take the children
    • threats to disclose information, for example to the police or an employer.  

To challenge this type of behaviour, people normally need money and access to the things that money can buy. This may include access to transport and a place to stay. Without these, leaving an abuser is difficult. Perpetrators of controlling or coercive behaviour recognise this. They deliberately use economic abuse as a way of limiting their victim’s choices.  

When is controlling or coercive behaviour a crime?  

Controlling or coercive behaviour is a crime in England and Wales if all of the following apply:   

  • The behaviour takes place repeatedly (on two or more occasions) or continuously (on an ongoing basis).   
  • The victim and perpetrator are ‘personally connected’, meaning: 
    • they are, or have been, married to each other; 
    • they are, or have been, civil partners of each other; 
    • they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated); 
    • they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated); 
    • they are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship with each other; 
    • they each have, or there has been a time when they each have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child; 
    • they are relatives. 
  • It causes the victim to fear on at least two occasions that violence will be used against them or it causes serious alarm or distress that has a serious effect on the victim’s day-to-day activities.   

A ‘serious effect’ on the victim could include:  

  • not being able to socialise, or a change in the way they socialise  
  • a deterioration in physical or mental health  
  • needing to make a change to routines at home, including routines associated with mealtimes or household chores  
  • effects on school attendance record  
  • putting in place measures at home to safeguard yourself or your children  
  • changes to work patterns, employment status or routes to work.  

For the behaviour to be criminal, the perpetrator must have known that it would have a serious effect, or ought to have known that it would.   

“He considered my money his, and when I bought something with my money he got very cross. He would stand over me or block the door, and once tried to push me down the stairs.”

Post-separation abuse 

SEA led the successful call for  controlling or coercive behaviour that takes after separation to be recognised in law. This change to the law came into effect on 5 April 2023. It means that a victim-survivor can pursue a prosecution if they are or have been in a relationship with the abuser and are no longer living together.  

Post-separation abuse may be prosecuted as controlling or coercive behaviour if the behaviour took place on or after 5 April 2023. 

We have further information about the change to the law to include controlling or coercive behaviour that takes place post-separation.  

Controlling or coercive behaviour and economic abuse

“In angry rages he often broke things I had bought him. It felt easier to pay for things for him than risk confrontation, guilting or worse.” 

Legal definition

The Domestic Abuse Act (2021) for England and Wales recognises economic abuse in law, by including it in the legal definition of domestic abuse.   

This law defines economic abuse as any behaviour that has a substantial and adverse effect on someone’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).  

 Although economic abuse is now included in the legal definition of domestic abuse, it is not necessarily always considered a crime. However, the police and other statutory agencies should now be more aware of economic abuse. The fact it is included in law means that they are more likely to recognise it as a form of controlling or coercive behaviour.  

Guidance on the law  

The Home Office guidance on the controlling or coercive behaviour offence gives more information to support the police in implementing the law. This now includes detailed information on economic abuse. It gives examples of economic abuse that may be considered under the controlling or coercive behaviour offence, including:  

Controlling / restrictive behaviours, such as:  

  • controlling the family income 
  • controlling what the victim can spend  
  • refusing to contribute to household income  
  • preventing the victim from claiming welfare benefits 
  • denying the victim food  
  • running up bills and debts in the victim’s name without their knowledge 
  • preventing the victim from having a bank account in their own name.  

Behaviours to sabotage the victim’s economic situation, such as: 

  • coercing the victim into signing over property or assets, or into making financial decisions that are not in their best interests  
  • interfering with the victim’s education or employment 
  • interfering with the victim’s immigration status so that they are economically dependent 
  • causing damage to property.  

The guidance also includes examples of economic abuse that take place after separation which could be considered within the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. These include:  

  • no longer paying the mortgage without reason 
  • demanding money in exchange for time with children 
  • making unnecessary applications in court proceedings 
  • refusing to pay child maintenance
  • deliberately prolonging court proceedings or making unnecessary applications to increase legal fees.

The full list of examples included in the guidance can be found on pages 56 and 57.  

Reporting economic abuse to the police

Non-physical forms of domestic abuse can be harder to prove. However, if the information above applies to your situation, you can report the abuser to the police. Usually, the police will investigate and decide whether to pass the case on to the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute.  

The controlling or coercive behaviour offence came into force on 29 December 2015 in England and Wales. If the abuse you experienced took place before this date, it cannot be prosecuted under this law. However, charges for controlling or coercive behaviour brought after this date can consider previous behaviour as evidence of a person’s character. If the abuse took place after separation, it must have taken place on or after 5 April 2023 for it to be prosecuted as controlling or coercive behaviour.  


Evidence is needed to prove that abuse has taken place.

The following may help prove economic abuse:  

  • copies of emails, phone records or text messages  
  • evidence of abuse over the internet and social media platforms  
  • photographs of the household , including damage to property 
  • records of interaction with support services, such as debt counselling  
  • witness testimonies from family, friends and neighbours  
  • bank records to show financial control  
  • records from housing services, such as complaints from other tenants or records of damage to the property, such as holes in walls  
  • an account given to the police as evidence of isolation.  

If you have experienced economic abuse and want to pursue a prosecution against the abuser, speak to your local domestic abuse service. They may be able to support you. Women’s Aid has a directory of local domestic abuse support services that you can search. There are also legal services that support women who have experienced domestic abuse, including Rights of Women.  

We also have information on accessing low-cost legal support.  

Last updated April 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.