Domestic abuse takes many forms. Some abusers repeatedly dictate their partner’s choices and everyday actions, and may control how they acquire, use and maintain money and economic resources such as housing, food and transport. This behaviour is known as economic abuse.
This guide is designed to help money and debt advisors spot the signs of economic abuse and talk to the client about the abuse so you can begin to support them.
It may help you understand their situation and respond appropriately so that you are able to offer them options that are relevant to their situation and advocate on their behalf.
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Responses to economic abuse are at an early stage of development in the UK. It is vital that we better understand and address this issue because economic stability is linked to physical safety. Women who experience economic abuse are five times more likely to experience physical abuse than those who don’t. Moreover, when women experience economic abuse in the context of coercive control then they are at increased risk of homicide.
Abusers exploit women’s existing economic inequality or create economic instability to reduce their partner’s ability to resist control. Women who can’t find £100 at short notice are 3.5 times more likely to experience economic abuse. Without access to the economic resources required to leave and live independently, victims stay with abusive partners for longer than they want to and experience more harm as a result.
Our research shows that 95% of women who experience domestic abuse also experience economic abuse. Of these, 60% are coerced into debt.
Money and debt advisors can play a key role in helping to identify that economic abuse is taking place. Your involvement can be critical in supporting clients to regain control of their finances and rebuild their lives.
Your interactions with clients about their financial activities, income and expenditure means that you may sometimes be able to spot warning signs that they may be vulnerable to economic abuse or already a victim. Noticing these signs and acting on them can have a significant impact on creating economic stability and safety.
It may seem daunting to talk to a client about economic abuse, but remember that you aren’t there to solve everything. By understanding the position that the client is in, discussing their options with them and advocating on their behalf, you are playing a crucial role to help them move forward.
It will also be helpful to read our resource ‘What is economic abuse’ to understand about some of the tactics that perpetrators use and how this type of abuse can affect someone’s life.
It is important to remember that speaking about economic abuse can be difficult for you as well as for the client. It may be that the experiences the client shares with you have an emotional impact, or you may identify with an experience the client brings up.
It is important to seek support if you feel that you need to. Your employer may have a domestic abuse policy or a workplace employee assistance programme, or it may help to speak to a manager or another colleague. If you have experienced abuse yourself and want to discuss this outside of work, there are domestic abuse helplines that you can call, many of which offer a 24-hour service.
Supporting a client who is experiencing economic abuse can be challenging, and you may sometimes feel that the ways in which you can help are limited. Remember that all your efforts in supporting the client will help them to regain control of their finances and to move forward.
Your support may also give the client the confidence to speak to someone else or another agency about the abuse they have experienced, enabling them to access more holistic support.
Economic abuse can be difficult to spot. There could be many reasons for unusual spending or for a client answering questions in a certain way, but there are some key signs that may help identify that a client is vulnerable to economic abuse or already a victim.
Look out for clients who:
If it is a joint appointment, look out for clients that take instructions from their partner or remain silent while their partner does all the talking.
Also look out for clients who regularly cancel or miss appointments, or who agree to all your suggestions but don’t take any further action. While this behaviour could be an indication of many different things that are going on in someone’s life, it can sometimes be a sign that someone may be afraid of an abuser’s reaction if they attend an appointment or take action.
Assessing someone’s income and expenditure can be difficult if a client does not have all the required information. For example, they might not know how much their rent is or how much they spend on certain bills.
A client may similarly not have access to the documents you would normally need to support them fully. If this is the case with a client you are working with, try to be patient. It may seem frustrating at first and you may feel that there is little you can do to help with these gaps in place, but being patient with someone may give them the space they need to explain why they don’t have the information or documents required.
Try not to judge a client who cannot supply all of the information you usually require. Lack of knowledge about their economic situation or lack of access to key documents may, in some cases, be an indication that a client is experiencing abuse.
You may sometimes see a client whose income and expenditure at first requires explanation. It may be that a client appears to spend a lot on socialising while they struggle to cover day-to-day expenses such as grocery shopping or bills, for example. It may be that a client is insistent that certain spending is prioritised, for example catalogue payments or cable TV packages, paying their partner’s mobile phone and their debts when you may not normally consider these to be as important as some other outgoings.
Being patient and understanding in these situations may help the client to reveal the reasons behind some unusual spending activity, which may, for example, be a result of pressure from an abusive partner, or because accessing credit might be their only means of surviving. In these situations, it could put the client in danger to cut off payments that meet the abuser’s demands. An abuser’s control could transform unnecessary spending into priority spending for a client.
If things don’t quite add up with the client’s income and expenditure, you could frame requests for further information as an error on your part, for example, ‘I think I must have got something wrong – please could we go over things again?’. Avoid blaming the client for unusual activity, which may make them less likely to share further information.
An assessment of a client’s income and expenditure may flag some queries, but they may not be forthcoming with information about the reasons for their spending. In some cases, the spending may be a result of economic abuse, and it is important to understand why some clients may not disclose their experiences.
They may be:
The client may have lived with the abuse for a long time. It may seem ‘normal’ to them and they may be unaware that what they are experiencing is a type of abuse.
There are certain things that you can do to make it easier for them to talk about abuse they are experiencing and to let them know that you are there to support them, including creating a safe environment.
Checking these points with the client will help ensure that they are safe speaking to you and feel comfortable to do so.
If you are worried that a client may be experiencing economic abuse and they do not share this with you, it may be appropriate to ask more questions about their situation. When you have ensured that the environment is right for them to talk, let them know that you are there to support them before asking more about their situation.
You might not directly ask if they are experiencing economic abuse, but might ask some softer questions that open the conversation, for example ‘How are things at home?’.
See more discussion prompts to help you open the conversation below.
Active listening skills help create an environment in which a client can speak openly. It will also help to ensure that you learn as much information as possible to allow you to support them in the appropriate ways.
Remember to give space and time for the client to explain their situation. If your appointment slot is not long enough to cover all the facts about what the client is experiencing, arrange a time to continue the conversation so you have as much information as possible.
Economic abuse can happen to anyone and is more common than you might think. One in six women in the UK has experienced economic abuse by a current or former partner, and over one third did not report it to anyone at the time.
It may have taken the client a long time to feel comfortable to disclose the abuse they have experienced. It is important not to judge them in the way you respond, or express shock or horror at what you hear. They may have received judgmental responses previously, which may have made it harder for them to talk.
Responses that judge the actions of the client and indicate that they need to be better at budgeting can also reinforce things that the abuser may say to belittle them, such as they are bad at managing money. You have an opportunity to counter these messages and help rebuild their confidence with money. This can, in turn, encourage them to reach out for help from other sources.
Also try not to offer your own opinion, such as “If I were you…”. It is important to give a professional response that shows understanding and lets the client know there are things you can do to help relieve the financial pressure they are under and help them regain control of their finances. Remember that the abuser is controlling their behaviour and that you can help empower them to regain control, rather than tell them what to do.
By being there, empathising and listening, you are already providing support to the client. There may also be many ways in which you can offer practical help that eases the day-to-day financial burden they are experiencing.
Discuss with the client the options they have for establishing a more secure economic position, including reducing their outgoings and increasing their income. Bear in mind that the abuse the client is experiencing may mean that some options you might normally suggest could put them at risk of further harm.
For example, some changes to banking could lead to the bank sending a letter to their address, or an address that the abuser has access to. Likewise, freezing a joint account may not be safe for the client, especially if the abuser is still living with them or regularly using that account. The client will be the best judge of their own safety, so never push them to pursue any action.
As a money or debt advisor, you may be the first person that a client has spoken to about the abuse they are experiencing. As well as the direct support you may offer with their financial position, it is vital to signpost the client to further support services. Let them know that help is available. You may find our ‘Organisations that can help’ directory useful.
Economic abuse may be difficult for both you and the client to talk about, but creating a supportive environment where the client feels it is safe to talk will help open the conversation.
Use some gentle, inviting questions that make it clear that you are there to listen and not to judge. Sharing with the client how the information will be kept confidential can also help reassure them.
Try to establish:
When you have established that a client can talk to you, you may wish to move the conversation towards economic abuse in a gentle way, perhaps without asking directly about the abuse they have experienced but by using some soft questioning.
Try to establish:
If the client discloses concerns about their partner or ex-partner, or tells you about any abuse, you can ask more specific questions, such as:
Try to respond to the client with empathy and understanding, so that they feel you are there to support and not to judge them.
Try to establish:
After responding with empathy, find an appropriate moment to suggest the options that the client may have. You may need to ask further questions to ensure that you fully understand the extent of the issues the client is facing and can advocate on their behalf.
The support that you can offer and the options that they have will depend on their specific circumstances. Be aware that some changes you might suggest the client makes to their finances could put them at risk of further harm from the abuser.
Try to establish:
The client may share elements of their story with you that extend beyond the remit of your role as a money or debt advisor. Remember that you are not there to solve everything for the client. There may be other agencies and organisations that you can direct them to that can provide support with other issues that they may be facing. We have a resource on organisations that can help, which you may find useful.
Try to establish:
Supporting a client experiencing economic abuse can sometimes seem overwhelming. You may feel that there is a limited amount you can do to support them. Try to remember that anything you can do to help them regain control of their finances will be an enormous help. By offering support and listening, you may give them the confidence to seek further support and challenge the abuser’s narrative.
Last updated March 2021
If you are working with someone who is experiencing economic abuse, they are not alone. We have information that can support them to take steps towards safety and begin to regain control of their finances.
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