A UK first: Starling Bank launches ‘Hide references’ to help survivors of economic abuse

Press release from Starling Bank. You can find more information on the ‘Hide References’ feature on the Starling Bank website.

A UK first: Starling Bank launches ‘Hide references’ to help survivors of economic abuse

  • New feature lets customers hide upsetting or abusive messages in payment references
  • Starling becomes the first bank to create feature for Faster Payments
  • Hide references feature developed with charity Surviving Economic Abuse

6 June 2023: Starling Bank has launched ‘Hide references’, a feature that lets customers hide payment references. The feature is the first of its kind in the UK for Faster Payments, and has been designed to help survivors of economic abuse by muting unwelcome or abusive references that can accompany bank transfers.

Payment references are intended to describe the nature of a payment, such as ‘Rent’, ‘Mum’s birthday gift’ or ‘Dinner’. In cases of economic abuse, they can be used to upset or abuse the recipient. An ex-partner blocked from other forms of contact, may, for example,  send messages such as ‘I miss you’ or even insults or threats. Sometimes multiple messages are sent to accompany payments as small as one pence.

The bank has partnered with the charity Surviving Economic Abuse to launch the feature to help victims of economic abuse, which can involve a partner taking someone’s wages, stopping them from working or intentionally putting them in debt. Abusive payment references are a key obstacle for economic abuse survivors to overcome.

The Hide references feature is available to Starling’s personal GBP current account holders. To use it, customers simply swipe up from the app home screen to pull up their transaction fee, tap on a payment that’s received with an unwanted reference, and tap the Hide icon.

This will hide references from past or future payments made from that account.

Starling’s new feature will not prevent the money from landing in a customer’s account, the recipient will simply not see any payment references that come from the sending account. Customers can choose to unhide payment references in the app at any time.

Rebecca’s story

Rebecca* separated from her abusive partner over a decade ago. He refused to pay child maintenance and after a court battle, was ordered to pay the money he owed directly to her.

“Although the money should have been paid as a lump sum, he would pay in small instalments with payment references that would remind me of times he verbally and physically abused me.

“The references weren’t ever flagged by the bank because to an outsider, they didn’t look abusive, but when they popped up on my phone, I would get flashbacks to his abuse. The messages were a way for him to maintain that power and control over me, showing me that even though I had left him, I would never be free from his harassment.

“My kids and I needed the support money, but it didn’t feel worth the endless stream of abusive payment references, and I didn’t want to explain to my bank why I didn’t want to see them. The ability to hide these references with a simple tap makes all the difference and I am so pleased that Starling has listened to my experience.”

Lauren Garrett, Financial Services Manager at Surviving Economic Abuse said:

“Economic abuse can continue, increase, or even start long after a victim-survivor has separated from an abuser. Using online bank payment references to send intimidating or malicious messages is just one of the ways an abuser can maintain control from afar, leaving victims feeling helpless and highly vulnerable. We’re pleased to be working with Starling on this new feature and commend them for sharing what they are doing to give survivors the power to choose what payment references they see, without having to relive traumatising experiences to customer services. This small in-app feature will make a huge difference to survivors’ ability to bank safely, and we’re proud to work alongside financial services who are listening to the voices of victim-survivors and encourage firms to continue closing down gaps in products and services which are being used to inadvertently facilitate abuse.” 

Starling is a founding signatory in the UK Finance Financial Abuse Code. The Hide references feature is part of the bank’s existing work supporting economic abuse survivors, which includes a dedicated vulnerable support team.

Charity Wood, Head of Customer Experience at Starling Bank said: “Anyone can experience economic abuse; they might not realise that it’s happening to them or how their bank can support. This feature shows just how powerful technology can be in making people’s lives easier, and is testament to Starling’s belief in doing the right thing.”

About Starling Bank

Starling Bank is an award-winning, fully-licensed and regulated bank built to give people a fairer, smarter and more human alternative to the banks of the past. It offers personal, business, joint, euro and dollar current accounts alongside a children’s card. Starling also provides a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) proposition through its subsidiary Engine, using the proprietary technology platform that it uses to power its own bank. Headquartered in London, the bank has offices in Southampton, Dublin and Cardiff.