Your safety
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.

Supporting children

Economic abuse can make caring for children a lot more challenging.

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

Economic abuse and children 

“When we had a baby, he went to 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 many 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: 

  • refusing to pay child maintenance payments or paying too little
  • not making child maintenance payments regularly
  • 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 they 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 them money 
  • convincing you that you won’t be able to support the children if you leave
  • not giving gifts for birthdays and other occasions
  • buying lavish gifts that are over-the-top, while refusing to give money for essentials. 

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 being able to leave and live independently. The abuser may also do any of these things to try to control you after you have separated. 

The abuser may not use the children as part of the abuse. However, the abuse may still affect them.

We have information on reaching safety if you or your children are in immediate danger or need support.

The Domestic Abuse Act

The Domestic Abuse Act (2021) for England and Wales recognises children as victims of domestic abuse. They are victims of domestic abuse if they see, hear or experience the effects of domestic abuse. This applies if the child is related to the victim or to the abuser. This change means statutory services can better support children affected by domestic abuse. 

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. If you are at risk of harm, you may need to leave immediately. Your options may include:

  • accommodation in a refuge
  • accommodation provided by the local authority
  • taking steps to ensure you can 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. See more information on financial support below.

Our information on 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 afford essentials, especially if you have children to care for. An abuser may tell you that you could not cope financially without them. However, support is available for you and your children. 

You can contact your local authority‘s Family and Children’s Services department to ask for financial support. They may be able to provide this under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This law means they have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all ‘children in need’ in their local area. The support they can offer will depend on your circumstances. They may be able to provide help with the cost of food, gas or electricity, for example.

There may be a Family Liaison Officer or Safeguarding Lead at your child’s school. This person may be able to help you contact the local authority for financial support.


Some organisations give grants to people in financial difficulty. There may be specific grants to help you care for children after abuse. Find further information on grants that you may be eligible for.


Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to apply for government benefits. Some benefits are available to help you support your children: 

  • The Department for Work and Pensions has information on financial support for victims of domestic abuse.
  • Turn2us has a benefits calculator that you can use for information on benefits to support your children. 
  • You can find detailed information on benefits on the Gingerbread website. This includes information about Child Benefit, Housing Benefit, Universal Credit, and tax credits.

Reporting a change in circumstances 

If you already claim benefits jointly with the abuser, it is important to report a change in circumstances following domestic abuse. This will mean you can receive the benefits separately from the abuser.

Reporting a change in circumstances can sometimes affect the benefits the abuser receives. Think carefully about whether doing this could lead to further abuse. You can seek support from your local domestic abuse service if this is a risk for you.

Child benefit
Click to show

You can report a change in circumstances using the Child Benefit online service. You can also call 0300 200 3100 (Mon–Fri, 8am–6pm). Child Benefit is not part of Universal Credit. You will need to report changes should separately even if you are claiming Universal Credit.

Some abusers claim that children are living with them 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.
Universal Credit
Click to show
If you get Universal Credit, you should receive more if you have children.
You can report changes to an existing Universal Credit claim using your Universal Credit online account (if you have one). You can also contact the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 (Mon–Fri, 8am–6pm). Your Universal Credit online account may have a journal function. You can use this to record the abuse you have experienced. This means that future decisions about your situation can take this into account.

Support with childcare costs 

If you are working, you may be able to get financial support with your childcare costs.  

Gingerbread has detailed information about childcare. This may help you understand your options and any benefits you may be able to claim.

The government’s childcare calculator can also help you work out:

  • what support you might be able to get
  • what would give you the most support. 

The government website has information 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’.” 

Child maintenance can keep you tied to an abuser long after the relationship has ended. Many abusers withhold child maintenance payments to continue the abuse after separation.

Abusers may refuse to pay child maintenance if they do not see the child. If they are paying, they may try to tell you how to spend the money. This can be very distressing and can affect your economic stability. Both parents are responsible for supporting the children financially, regardless of access arrangements. The abuser has no right to tell you how to spend the money or to ask for proof of this.  

Some survivors wish to cut all ties with the abuser and do not claim child maintenance for this reason. However, the Child Maintenance Service may be able to contact the abuser on your behalf to arrange payments.

Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

The service can: 

  • calculate how much should be paid 
  • arrange payments and take action if payments are not made 
  • help find the other parent if needed.

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

  • find out why they have not paid 
  • arrange for them to pay what they owe 
  • warn them about what may happen if they do not pay. This may include:
    • taking money directly from their earnings or benefits
    • taking money from a bank or building society account
    • taking court action. 

As of 26 February 2024, there is no application fee to use the CMS. You can read more about this change on the Government website.

Gingerbread has detailed information on using the Child Maintenance Service. Their website includes information about fees and charges. It also information about domestic abuse and child maintenance.

There are two ways in which payments may be made if you use the CMS:

  • Direct Pay – The CMS calculates payment amounts. You arrange payment directly with the other parent.
  • Collect and Pay – The CMS collects payment from the other parent and passes this on to you. It can be used if the CMS believes that the paying parent is otherwise ‘unlikely to pay’. The paying parent has to pay a 20% fee to use this service. You would also be charged a 4% fee.

Gingerbread has helpful information to support you to use the CMS.

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 to help enforce child maintenance payments. This can be used 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 

“My children grew up with a mother constantly worried about the roof over their head.”

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. This can help children and young people understand domestic abuse and cope with the effects. 
  • Older children might find the website Love is Respect helps them understand what’s going on. 
  • The Domestic Violence Intervention Project provides therapy for children affected by domestic violence. This can provide a safe place for children to explore what they have been feeling.

These websites might help you 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 April 2023

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.