Approaching the police if you have experienced economic abuse can feel daunting. But the police are there to keep you safe and there is a lot that they can do to support you.
If you are in immediate danger, you can call 999.
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Keeping the public safe is one of the key responsibilities of the police. But you may feel nervous about reporting the abuse or wonder how they police can help.
There is a lot that the police can do to help. They can help you access a domestic abuse support service, or check someone’s background for previous abusive behaviour, among other things.
Police responses may vary. However, many police forces have been trained on how challenging it can be for you to report domestic abuse, including economic abuse.
Reporting abuse is the first step towards getting justice. It may be useful to understand how economic abuse relates to the law, as the police can only act if the abuser’s behaviour is criminal.
Although there is no criminal offence of domestic abuse, many specific forms of abuse are criminal offences. This includes threats to kill, disclosure of private images, assault and rape.
Some forms of economic abuse can be addressed through existing criminal offences.
Controlling or coercive behaviour is now also a criminal offence and was introduced by the Serious Crime Act 2015. Economic abuse, including abuse that takes place after separation, is a form of controlling or coercive behaviour. It often overlaps with other controlling tactics such as:
The abuser may make you feel like you cannot seek help from the police. Some possible tactics include:
Economic abuse, including post-separation abuse, is now recognised in law. We hope this changed status will help standardise the police response.
Our research shows that six in ten successful prosecutions of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence include economic abuse.
If any of the above circumstances apply, you can report the abuser to the police. If you are not in immediate danger, the number for your local police is 101, regardless of where you live. You can also report in person at your local police station.
If you are in immediate danger, you can call 999. If you cannot speak to the operator on the 999 call, you can press 55 to let them know your call is genuine. This will not let the police know where you are, however. If you can say anything, tell them your location.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, the police should speak to you separately from the abuser. You can also ask to speak to a female police officer, or an officer with specialist knowledge of domestic abuse if you would prefer to.
Usually, the police will investigate and, if there are sufficient grounds, they may arrest the abuser. This does not necessarily mean that the abuser will be prosecuted. Usually, the police pass the case on to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will decide whether to pursue charges.
The police do not need to see the offence happen. They do not need a warrant to make an arrest if they suspect the abuser is going to commit an offence.
They will try to gather evidence so that the case is not solely based on your statement. If the abuser has committed an ‘arrestable offence’, the police will not need your permission to make an arrest.
If you report the abuser to the police, seek support from a local domestic abuse or legal service. You can search for a local domestic abuse service on the Women’s Aid website.
If the police take action against the abuser, ask for a crime reference number, which may be helpful if you seek further support.
The police may ask you for evidence, as well as gather evidence for themselves. Evidence of economic abuse and controlling or coercive behaviour can include:
The police can also support you with:
Economic abuse and post-separation abuse are recognised in law. It is your right to seek protection from and prosecution for criminal behaviour.
Police responses to economic abuse can vary. We know that not all victim-survivors will experience a supportive response from their local force.
Your local police force should have a domestic abuse policy, strategy or guidelines for you to check. Their response may not match these guidelines, or you may not be happy with the response or investigation.
If this is the case, it is your right to give feedback or make a formal complaint to your local force. You can also raise a complaint if the abuser is connected with the police.
For the most serious and sensitive matters that have the potential to affect public confidence in the police, your complaint may be referred to the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct).
If you would like support to make a formal complaint, Women’s Aid has a directory of local services that can help you do this.
Last updated July 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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