For bank and building society staff
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.
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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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 – Experian, Equifax 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:
There is more information for the customer, should they need it, in our resource on how economic abuse can affect their credit report.
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.
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.
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.
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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