Customer safety
The customer is the best judge of whether making any changes might lead to further harm, and should only take the actions below if it is safe to do so. In an emergency, call 999.

Supporting customers to separate their finances from an abuser

For bank and building society staff

“When I left the relationship, I realised he had taken out loans and credit cards in joint names I knew nothing about.” Victim-survivor

There are a number of ways that you can support customers facing economic abuse to regain control of their finances. Only support a customer to take the following actions if it is safe for them to do so and they are sure that it would not lead to further harm from the abuser.

The information below is in line with the guidance in the 2021 Financial Abuse Code.

We have further resources for bank and building society staff on: understanding and identifying economic abuse; responding to customers experiencing economic abuse and talking to customers experiencing economic abuse.

Helping the customer regain control

The ways in which you can support a customer to regain control of their finances will depend on your own bank’s policies. You may be able to: 

  • suggest ways of delinking the customer’s finances from those of the abuser
  • support the customer to ensure any new banking information is safe and secure to help prevent further abuse. 

Make sure you present all options to the customer and do not take any action without their consent. Don’t push the customer towards doing anything that they feel may be unsafe for them. The customer is the best judge of whether making any changes might lead to further harm. 

The customer may ask for your support in the following areas.

Gathering information
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It will be useful for you and the customer to gather as much information as possible about their financial situation. The abuser may have withheld this information from the customer, or taken actions without their knowledge (such as opening accounts or taking out credit in their name).

It can be helpful to ask:

  • Do you have assets, such as a property, car or savings that are not on your bank statement?
  • Are there other debts in your name (or joint names), such as a credit card, mortgage or loan, that we cannot see on your bank statement?
  • If you are renting, is the tenancy agreement in your name?
  • Are you responsible for the bills?
  • Do you have any other bank accounts in your name?

The customer may not know the answers to all of these questions. They may have never dealt with their household finances before, or the abuser may be keeping financial information from them.

Be patient and give them time to think. They may need extra time to look into these matters or to find important documents. Not knowing about bank account information or their transactions is common for customers who have experienced economic abuse.

In some cases, the customer simply will not have safe access to important numbers or documents. In these instances, consider whether you can work around the bank’s regular or “business as usual” procedures.

Establishing security
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Keeping the customer’s details secure 

If you update the customer’s address details, you may be able to put a flag on their account that indicates that extra care is necessary to keep these details confidential.

Account security  

After leaving the abuser, the customer should change the passwords and security question details on all their accounts if it is safe for them to do so.  This will help prevent the abuser from accessing them.

You may wish to encourage them to change the security measures on their:

  • email
  • online banking
  • credit report accounts
  • other online accounts for financial products.
Closing a joint bank account
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Normally, both parties must agree for a joint bank account to be closed. However, banks and building societies that have committed to the 2021 Financial Abuse Code may not insist on this. Ask your supervisor or customer vulnerability team if you are unsure about how your bank deals with these cases.

Talk the customer through their options, which could include:

  • Closing the joint bank account if the balance is zero.
  • Freezing the joint account.
  • Putting a block on the joint account.
  • Removing the customer from the account.
  • Reviewing their overdraft options. For example, a 50/50 split of the debt might be possible if there is evidence that both parties used it. If it appears that the perpetrator incurred the debt or coerced the victim into overdraft, the debt could be transferred solely to the perpetrator and the victim-survivor removed from the account.

Remember that if there is a court order in place against the abuser, by law activity on the account must be suspended.

It is vital to consider carefully whether closing a joint account could lead to further harm from the abuser. The customer will be the best judge of their safety and situation.

Freezing a joint bank account
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If freezing the joint account is the safest option for the customer, or their only option, make sure they are aware of the following information.

Freezing the account can prevent the abuser from withdrawing all the money or from incurring an overdraft, which the customer would be jointly liable for. You may wish to ask if they would like to withdraw money before freezing the account, as they will not be able to do so when it is frozen.

Be sure to also tell the customer about the possible negative effects of freezing the account:

  • Unfreezing the account will usually require the consent of all named account holders.
  • Freezing the account will mean that any standing orders and direct debits will not be paid.
  • Using a joint account after they have left could give the abuser access to their location (eg through cash machine locations or on bank statements).
  • A possible negative reaction from the perpetrator if the account was frozen without their knowledge or consent.

It is vital to consider carefully whether freezing a joint account could lead to further harm from the abuser. The customer will be the best judge of their safety and situation.

Opening a new bank account
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If the customer does not already have a bank account in their sole name, this can help them delink from the abuser. They will be able to receive benefits or wages and to pay bills independently.

If you are opening an account for a customer who has previously held a joint account with the abuser, be careful not to link the accounts as this may make the customer’s details visible to the abuser. You could suggest the customer opens an account with a different bank to avoid this risk.

The customer may not have access to the documents usually required to prove their identity (such as a passport, driving licence or birth certificate). Are you able to accept alternative documents, such as a letter from a refuge, social worker or local authority? Can you offer the customer a basic or fee-free account?

Our resource on opening a bank account has more information for the customer on doing this safely.

Separating credit card access
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The abuser may have told the victim-survivor that their credit card is in joint names, but this is not possible in the UK.

However, there can be a secondary cardholder who is permitted to use the cardholder’s account. If the abuser is named as a secondary cardholder on the victim-survivor’s account, they can ask for the abuser to be removed. Similarly, the victim-survivor can remove their own name as a secondary cardholder on the abuser’s credit card if they wish to delink.

It is vital to consider carefully whether separating credit card access could lead to further harm from the abuser. The customer will be the best judge of their safety and situation.

Managing joint debts
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If the customer has joint debts with the abuser, such as a loan, mortgage or an overdraft on a joint bank account, these debts can keep them financially linked to the abuser until they are cleared.

Before taking any action to tackle their debts, explain to the customer that it is vital to speak to a qualified debt adviser. A qualified debt adviser can outline the options they may have for dealing with debts and help them to make any important financial decisions. They may also be able to support the customer to contact creditors and negotiate on their behalf.

Surviving Economic Abuse and Money Advice Plus run a specialist service for victim-survivors of domestic abuse. To contact the Financial Support Line, call or text 01323 635 987 (Mon–Fri, 9am–1pm & 2pm–5pm). We have a list of more specialist debt advice services that may be able to help.

Many perpetrators of economic abuse force their partner to make transactions that lead them into debt, or build up debts fraudulently in their name. This is known as coerced debt, and includes situations where the customer may have had no choice but to take on debt in order to stay safe. If this seems like an issue the customer is facing, you can also show them our resources on coerced debt.

Accessing credit reports
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If the victim-survivor has taken out credit jointly with the abuser (for example a mortgage, a loan or a bank account with an overdraft), they will be financially linked with the abuser on their credit report.

If they apply for credit, an associate search will appear on the credit file of anyone they are financially linked to if the creditor checked the file of that person as part of their application. The other person can see limited details about this on their report.

This does not usually reveal the address you currently live at. However, it is advisable to contact the credit reference agencies to highlight that your new address must not be shared.

It usually only reveals:

  • the name of the person applying
  • the date of the application
  • the name of the lender

Associate searches remain on the report for 12 months and are then removed.

The customer may want to access their credit report, which can offer an overview of credit that has been taken out in their name. It can also help identify anything unusual, such as lender searches and credit applications that they did not request.

The three main credit reference agencies in the UK – ExperianEquifax and TransUnion – may each hold different information. It may be a good idea for the customer to get a copy of their credit report from all three agencies.

The customer can financially disassociate from the abuser when they have no outstanding active credit agreements together, such as bank accounts, loans or credit cards. They can do this by contacting the credit reference agencies and asking them to put a ‘notice of disassociation’ on their file to indicate that they are no longer financially linked.

It is not possible to disassociate if they still have outstanding credit agreements together, unless:

  • the only joint credit agreement they still have is a mortgage and you have been living apart for 6 months
  • the joint credit agreements are defaulted

There is more information for the customer, should they need it, in our resource on how economic abuse can affect their credit report.

Managing insurance
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You may also wish to ask the customer whether they have any joint insurance products with the abuser. They may not be aware of the products that are in their name, and may be frightened, particularly around life insurance. The perpetrator may have threatened to harm or murder the victim-survivor to gain access to their life insurance.

Whether insurance products can be split depends on the type of insurance and the plan. You may need to refer the customer to a specialist team for support in making changes to insurance products.

Responses to issues around insurance are in the early stages. For extra guidance, you may wish to contact SEA or sign up to our training.

De-linking checklist

We have developed a de-linking checklist to help the victim-survivor think about all the ways in which they might be financially tied to the abuser. 

You can view and print out the checklist here. You may find it useful to work through it with the customer. 

Offering further support

You may not be able to solve every problem that the customer identifies. Remember that you may uncover debt and financial links to the perpetrator that the customer did not know about, which can be very difficult and distressing for them. Acknowledging their experience, listening, responding with empathy, and signposting the customer to specialist support can make all the difference. We have further resources that can support you to have these conversations.

It can be useful to familiarise yourself with some of the specialist support services that the customer may wish to access. We have a list of several organisations that can provide support.

Your safety and wellbeing

Supporting a customer who is experiencing economic abuse can be difficult. You may identify with an experience the customer mentions, or the customer’s story may have an emotional impact.  

It is important to seek support if you need to. Your employer may have a domestic abuse policy or an employee assistance programme, or it may help to speak to a manager or another colleague. If you have experienced abuse, there are domestic abuse helplines that you can call, many of which offer a 24-hour service.

If you are worried that a colleague, friend or family member may be experiencing economic abuse, we have information on spotting the signs of economic abuse.  

Last updated April 2022

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