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.
On this page
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:
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:
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.
Controlling or coercive behaviour is a crime in England and Wales if all of the following apply:
A ‘serious effect’ on the victim could include:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Behaviours to sabotage the victim’s economic situation, such as:
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:
The full list of examples included in the guidance can be found on pages 56 and 57.
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:
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
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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