Domestic abuse takes many forms. Abusers may restrict, exploit and sabotage their partner’s access to money and other resources, such as food, clothing, transportation and a place to live.
This is economic abuse, and it is designed to limit someone’s freedom. It is commonly experienced within a pattern of behaviour known as coercive control.
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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.
Economic abuse often overlaps with other forms of abuse, such as psychological abuse. Economic abuse is also linked to:
Women who access specialist domestic violence services, such as refuges or domestic abuse advocates, report experiencing high levels of economic abuse.* In fact, within SEA’s 3-year Economic Justice Project, economic abuse was present in 95% of domestic abuse cases.
While we still have a long way to come to break the silence around domestic abuse, the Government’s approach is now led by the idea that domestic abuse is ‘everyone’s business’. The Serious Crime Act (2015) introduced a new offence called controlling and coercive behaviour. This criminalises patterns of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation, or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim or make them subordinate.
To challenge controlling or coercive behaviour, people normally need money and economic resources, such as access to transport and a place to stay. Without these, leaving an abuser is more difficult.
Perpetrators of controlling or coercive behaviour recognise this and use economic abuse as a way of limiting their partner’s choices.
The scale and impact of economic abuse means that agencies across many sectors need to take steps to address it. This goes far beyond statutory agencies and charities – we must include the banking industry.
A coordinated community response (CCR) to all forms of domestic abuse, including economic abuse, brings together a wide variety of relevant organisations and agencies to work in collaboration to prevent further harm and help victim-survivors establish safety.
The CCR originated in the US and has been pioneered in the UK by Standing Together. See their wheel of the CCR components below.
Most public services and private institutions are not designed with the needs of victim-survivors in mind. Because of this, they may struggle to properly support those experience abuse, or may even inadvertently facilitate abuse. Without a CCR, different organisations and agencies work in silos rather than together effectively. Victim-survivors can receive conflicting messages and be forced to navigate often complex systems alone.
A CCR brings services together to keep survivors safe, hold abusers to account and prevent domestic abuse.
An effective CCR could include the following agencies and services:
An effective intervention to domestic abuse cannot be achieved with a “one-size-fits-all” approach. No single organisation or agency has a full picture of the abuse a victim-survivor has experienced. For example, a woman’s GP might have a record of the physical or emotional effects, or a school may notice their child’s frequent absences, while a bank or financial advisor might know whether she has control over her economic resources.
Responding to economic abuse in the CCR
It is vital to include victim-survivors economic welfare in a CCR. Women who do not have the resources to leave an abuser may stay with the abuser for longer and experience more harm as a result.
Banks and building societies have an unrivalled ability to support victim-survivors of economic abuse, but the perceived taboos about discussing money or domestic abuse can prevent many people from seeking help. By choosing to broach the topic first and ask the right questions, banks can become a vital lifeline. Moreover, 70% of UK adults believe that financial institutions should be doing more to address abuse.**
In our previous report on banking, SEA identified a lack of consideration within financial institutions to how people’s circumstances might affect their ability to make decisions about money and other resources. It is crucial to take these into account in cases of intimate partner violence. Refusing an abuser’s demand can be dangerous; without the right support, debt or over-spending may feel like the safest option.
Many major banks have already signed up to the UK Finance 2021 Financial Abuse Code. This sets out the ways in which banks and building societies should respond to vulnerable customers, including those who have experienced economic abuse. The Code only sets out a baseline response. Banks and building societies should use it as a foundation on which to build a comprehensive and compassionate response.
Research has found that women were afraid to discuss economic abuse with banks for many reasons, including:
By anticipating these fears and meeting victim-survivors’ needs, banks can encourage disclosure and help people pursue a just outcome.
Some banks and building societies have already established their own best practices for responding to economic abuse, including those listed below.
The UK Finance 2021 Financial Abuse Code creates a framework through which elements of the CCR can be addressed, supporting victim-survivors and holding abusers to account. The Code states banks should:
SEA has developed and shared many resources, including this one, for economic advocacy. Banking staff may wish to consult our other resources, including:
SEA also offers custom training to banks and building societies, which can be particularly valuable to customer vulnerability teams.
Training can help colleagues:
You can also visit Standing Together’s page on the CCR Network for more information on how CCRs are responding to domestic abuse in the UK.
The following case study shows how banks can support a victim-survivor and, at the same time, hold an abuser accountable in partnership with domestic abuse organisations and other agencies.
Lisa was living in a refuge and struggling with coerced debt when she contacted the Financial Support Line for victims of domestic abuse run in partnership by SEA and Money Advice Plus. Before she left the abuser, he had coerced her into taking out a large loan. Lisa cancelled the loan during the 14-day cooling off period, but when the abuser became aware of this, he forced her to reinstate the loan. The abuser spent the entire loan on substance abuse and the relationship ended, but Lisa continued to pay off the loan.
Working alongside SEA’s Banking Specialist, the case was raised with senior members of the bank’s Vulnerability Team. As a result, the total debt was transferred to the abuser’s name and Lisa no longer had to make payments.
Working within a CCR, there may be a few terms you hear that you are not familiar with. These include:
Advocate: An advocate, in terms of domestic abuse, is a person trained to work with or volunteer for a charity or organisation to provide support to victims of domestic abuse. There are specific types of qualified advocates (see below).
DASH/DASH Risk Assessment/DASH RIC/RIC: These abbreviations usually stand for Domestic Abuse, Stalking and ‘Honour-based’ Violence Risk Indicator Checklist. This is the multi-agency framework risk assessment. Practitioners use this to assess the risk of harm of a victim; this not only determines the level of risk but the type of harm the victim may have been subject to or is at risk of. Scores and risk categories can vary dependent on the service but usually if a victim scores 14 out of 24 this is considered high risk. The case will likely be sent to MARAC (see below).
IDVA: This stands for Independent Domestic Violence Advocate/Adviser. IDVAs are specialised professionals who work with victims of domestic abuse and help them reach safety and rebuild their life. They can also represent the victim at MARAC, guide them through the criminal justice system, and work with other agencies in the CCR to provide support. as well as helping them to navigate the criminal justice process and working with the different statutory agencies to provide wraparound support.
ISVA: This stands for Independent Sexual Violence Advocate/Adviser. ISVAs are trained to provide emotional and practical support to victims-survivors of sexual assault, sexual abuse and rape. They work closely with the police and the criminal justice system, if the victim-survivor would like to report the abuse.
MAPPA: This stands for Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements. MAPPA is an information sharing and risk management meeting attended by agencies such as the police, prison services and probation services, who all work together to manage the risks posed by offenders in order to protect the public. These meetings may also include an IDVA or other advocate if domestic abuse was involved.
MARAC: This stands for Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference, which is an information sharing and risk management meeting attended by all key agencies (police, social workers, children’s social care, housing, education, probation services, health representatives, specialist domestic violence services, mental health support, homelessness team, local drug and alcohol services, etc.) where high risk domestic abuse cases are discussed.
No recourse to public funds (NRPF): Recourse to public funds means a person has a residence permit that allows them to live in the UK and to claim most state benefits. To have NRPF means that, subject to Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, a person has no current entitlement to most welfare benefits.
Last updated February 2021
*Adams, A. E., Sullivan, C. M., Bybee, D. and Greeson, M. R. (2008). Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse. Violence Against Women 14(5): 563-587.
**Sharp-Jeffs, N. (2015). Money Matters: Research into the extent and nature of financial abuse within intimate relationships in the UK. London: The Co-operative Bank/Refuge.
The Coordinated Community Response has been pioneered in the UK by:
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