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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.

Economic abuse and supporting children

If you are experiencing economic abuse and have children, caring for them may be a lot more challenging. You may struggle to ensure they have everything they need, but support is available.  

This resource outlines some of the options to help you and your children reach safety. It also outlines some financial support that may be available. 

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Economic abuse and children 

“When we had a baby, he took it upon himself to go and register their births while I was in hospital so he could claim child benefit. He did the same each time, and the children didn’t see any of that money.” 

Perpetrators of economic abuse use a number of tactics to gain power and control. If you have children, these tactics will impact them too. 

“I am a single parent and I always do the best I can for my son. We live hand to mouth and I struggle. On top of this, my ex uses the child maintenance service to continue the abuse.”

An abuser may use or involve children in their behaviour in any of the following ways: 

  • taking the child benefit or other benefits provided for the children 
  • taking children’s savings or birthday money 
  • stealing the children’s belongings or destroying their property 
  • refusing to pay for essential items like nappies, milk and clothes 
  • using threats related to children (eg that he won’t give any money to you and the children if you leave)
  • threatening to take you to court for custody of the children if you do not give him money 
  • convincing you that you won’t be able to support the children if you leave
  • not giving gifts for birthdays and other occasions, or buying lavish gifts that are over-the-top, while withholding money for essentials 
  • withholding child maintenance payments, or paying too little or unreliably 

Any of these actions may form part of the abuser’s pattern of behaviour to control you and your children. They may prevent you from having the economic resources you need to leave and build a future for you and your children. They may also be tactics that the abuser uses to try to exert control long after the relationship has ended. 

Even if the abuser does not use these particular tactics, domestic abuse usually has a negative economic impact. This is likely to affect you and your children. 

We have information on help that is available if you or your children are in immediate danger or need support.

The Domestic Abuse Act

The Domestic Abuse Act recognises a child who sees, hears or experiences the effects of domestic abuse as a victim of domestic abuse in their own right. This applies if the child is related to the person being abused or to the perpetrator. This change is designed to ensure better support by statutory services for children affected by domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act applies primarily to England and Wales.  

Finding somewhere safe to live 

“This is the reality – me and the kids sleeping in two beds at my friend’s and he’s in our old home, which I jointly owned.” 

Finding somewhere safe to live may be your top priority if you are planning to leave the abuser.

You may prefer to leave in a safe and planned way. However, if you are at significant risk you may need to leave immediately. Your options may include accommodation in a refuge or accommodation provided by the local authority. You may prefer to take measures to stay in your own home safely if the abuser has left. 

If you and your children need to leave your home due to domestic abuse, you may be able to get Housing Benefit. This can be for temporary accommodation as well as for your permanent home. See more information below on benefits that may be available to support you with accommodation costs following abuse. 

Our resource ‘Finding a safe place to live’ includes more detail on these and other options. 


“At Christmas, my ex would post pictures of extravagant holidays on social media to taunt me and the children as we had no home and no spare money for gifts. It was all about power and control. Even though we were divorced, he controlled our lives financially.” 

Financial support 

Economic abuse can leave you struggling to make ends meet, especially if you have children to care for. The abuser may have led you to believe that you would not cope financially without him. However, some support is available for you and your children. 

If you are struggling to provide essentials like food and heating, you may be eligible for assistance from the local authority. Under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all ‘children in need’ in their local area. This includes providing accommodation and financial support.  

Contact your local authority‘s Family and Children’s Services department to request financial support under section 17 if you are struggling. This support may not be a cash payment, but could help with things such as food, gas or electricity. The Family Liaison Officer or Safeguarding Lead at your child’s school may be able to help you to contact the local authority for financial support.

Grants 

Some organisations provide grants to support people in financial difficulty to help care for children after abuse.

  • Family Action welfare grant: Provides grants to families in crisis, including those who have recently experienced domestic abuse. The programme provides grants for essential personal and household needs to help families on low incomes. A referring agency, including a health or social care worker, or a domestic abuse support charity, must make the application. 
  • Buttle UK Chances for Children grant: Grants for children experiencing lasting emotional, social or educational difficulties due to domestic abuse. Can help fund: after-school clubs and activities; therapies, such as art therapy; household needs, such as clothing, toys and furniture for children’s bedrooms; educational supplies, such as laptops and books; tutoring lessons. 
  • BBC Children in Need Emergency Essentials Programme: Supports children and young people facing exceptionally difficult circumstances. The programme provides items to help meet children’s basic needs, including a bed, a cooker, and other critical items. A referring agency must make the application.

Search for more grants that you might be entitled to receive, including grants in your local area, using the Turn2us grants search

Many local authorities have a welfare assistance scheme. These schemes can provide grants and practical support, such as school uniforms, to people in crisis. Your local domestic abuse service may have details of welfare assistance schemes and other local programmes that may be able to provide practical support. They may also have details of other local domestic abuse organisations that may be able to support you. 

We have more information on grants that you may be eligible for.

Benefits 

Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for government benefits that can help you support your children. The Department for Work and Pensions has produced information on the financial support available for victims of domestic abuse. Turn2us has a benefits calculator that you can use for information on the benefits that could help you to support your children. 

Reporting a change in circumstances 

If you are already claiming any of the following benefits and have been claiming jointly with the abuser, it is important to report a change in your circumstances following domestic abuse. This will enable you to begin receiving the benefits you are entitled to independently. 

Reporting a change in circumstances can in some cases affect the benefits that the abuser receives. Remember to consider carefully whether doing this could lead to further harm from the abuser. You can seek support from your local domestic abuse service if you are concerned about this. 

Child Benefit 

Child Benefit is payable for each child you have under the age of 16 (or under the age of 20 if they remain in education or training). It is paid every 4 weeks at a rate of £21.15 per week for your eldest or only child. The rate is £14 per week for each additional child. 

Some abusers claim that children are living with them after separation so that they can claim Child Benefit. If this is a concern for you, your local domestic abuse service can support you to report any changes in relation to Child Benefit. 

If you have already been claiming Child Benefit and need to report a change in your circumstances, you can do this using the Child Benefit online service or by calling 0300 200 3100 (Mon–Fri, 8am–6pm). Child Benefit is not part of Universal Credit, so changes should be reported separately even if you are claiming Universal Credit. 

Universal Credit 

If you are eligible for Universal Credit, you should get an additional amount to support your children. If your children were born after 6 April 2017, the child element of Universal Credit is paid for a maximum of two children. In some circumstances, Universal Credit may be paid for additional children. This includes if you were experiencing coercive control when the child was conceived. A support service, such as a social worker or domestic abuse support service, can support you to apply for this exception to the Universal Credit cap on the number of children.

The amount that you will receive will depend on whether your children were born before or after 6 April 2017 and how many children you have. Check how much you may receive for your children depending on your situation. 

Normally, you will be expected to meet certain work-related requirements if you are claiming Universal Credit. This may include looking for work or preparing for work. If you are the main carer of a child up to 16 years of age who is in considerable distress due to domestic abuse, you can have a temporary break from work-related requirements to provide additional care and support to your children. This break will be for a maximum of one month every six months for a period of two years following the abuse. 

If you need to report changes to your existing Universal Credit claim, you can do this using your Universal Credit online account (if you have one) or by contacting the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. Your Universal Credit online account may have a journal facility. You can use this to note that you have experienced domestic (including economic) abuse and are separated. This means it can be taken into account when future decisions are made about your situation. 

Housing Benefit or Universal Credit (housing element) 

If you and your children need to leave your home due to domestic abuse, you may be able to get Housing Benefit for temporary accommodation as well as for your permanent home. This additional Housing Benefit payment is usually provided on a temporary basis, up to a maximum of one year. If you receive Universal Credit, the same provision is available for a dual payment of the housing element of Universal Credit.

If you are a homeowner, you may still be able to access Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. This can help you to pay for safe accommodation, such as a refuge or other rented property. The value of your home can be ignored when assessing your eligibility for these benefits. This is known as a ‘capital disregard’. 

Support with childcare costs 

If you are working, you may be eligible for financial support with your childcare costs.  

Through the government’s tax-free childcare scheme, you could receive up to £500 every three months for each of your children to help with the cost of childcare. This applies for children up to the age of 11. Through this scheme, the government pays £2 for every £8 you pay to a childcare provider. This is paid via an online childcare account that you will need to set up.  

If your child is aged between 3 and 4, you may also be eligible for 30 hours free childcare. 

Whether you are eligible for these schemes will depend on how many hours you work and how much you earn. Generally you will need to work an average of 16 hours a week to be eligible. 

These schemes can be used to help pay for childcare in approved settings. This includes childminders, nurseries, nannies, after school clubs, play schemes and home care agencies. You cannot get tax-free childcare at the same time as claiming Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Universal Credit or childcare vouchers. Which scheme you’re better off with depends on your situation. The government’s childcare calculator can help you work out what support you are eligible for and would suit you best. 

You can get 30 hours free childcare at the same time as claiming Universal Credit, tax credits, childcare vouchers or tax-free childcare. 

You can find out more about your options for support with childcare costs. 

Child maintenance 

“After separation, he did not pay any maintenance for the child. He made himself jobless so he didn’t have to pay, but at the same time he was off on exotic holidays.” 

“He said that if I didn’t do his washing and cooking, he wouldn’t pay any child maintenance. He dropped off some tablecloths for me to clean after a dinner party he’d had and told me, ‘This is what you are paid for’.” 

Payment of child maintenance can keep you tied to the abuser long after the relationship has ended. Many abusers withhold child maintenance payments to continue the abuse post-separation, and this can be extremely distressing and upsetting. Abusers may refuse to pay child maintenance if they do not see the child. If they are paying, they may specify how the money should be spent. 

It is important to remember that both parents are responsible for contributing financially to supporting the children, regardless of access arrangements. The abuser has no right to dictate or ask for evidence of how the money is spent. 

Some survivors wish to sever all ties with the abuser and do not wish to pursue child maintenance for this reason. The Child Maintenance Service can help you to enforce child maintenance payments by contacting the abuser on your behalf. 

Child Maintenance Service

The service can: 

  • calculate how much should be paid 
  • arrange for the other parent to pay child maintenance and take action if payments are not made 
  • help find the other parent if needed 
  • sort out disagreements about parentage 
  • look at the payments if changes in parents’ circumstances are reported 

There is normally a charge to use this service, but this charge does not apply to people who have experienced domestic abuse. 

If the abuser refuses to pay child maintenance, in some cases the Child Maintenance Service may be able to: 

  • find out why they have not paid 
  • arrange for them to pay what they owe 
  • warn them about action that may be taken if they do not pay, including taking money directly from their earnings or benefits, taking money from a bank or building society account, or taking court action 

If you wish to use the Child Maintenance Service, you will first need to call Child Maintenance Options on 0800 083 4375 (Mon–Fri, 8am–8pm; Sat, 9am–4pm). It will be helpful to explain straight away that you have experienced domestic abuse so you are not encouraged to make your own arrangement with the abuser. This will also mean that you are not charged a fee for the service. Child Maintenance Options will give you a reference number to call the Child Maintenance Service so that you can make an application. There is more information on making a child maintenance arrangement

If the abuser lives abroad

This can make it harder to enforce payment of child maintenance. A reciprocal enforcement maintenance order (REMO) is an international agreement between different countries to help enforce child maintenance payments if one parent lives abroad. A REMO can also help a parent living abroad claim maintenance from the parent living in the UK.

Emotional support 

You may wonder how you can support your children emotionally as well as practically following abuse. 

Women’s Aid has a website called The Hide Out especially to help children and young people understand domestic abuse and to support them to cope with the effects. 

Older children might find the information on the website Love is Respect helps them to understand what’s going on. 

These websites might be a helpful starting point to support you to talk about abuse with your children. Your child’s school or your doctor’s surgery may be able to refer them for counselling if this would be helpful. 

Last updated July 2021

Further support 

If you are experiencing economic abuse, you are not alone. There are more organisations that can help you. 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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