Surviving Economic Abuse: in support of the UK Finance’s new Code of Practice on financial abuse and providing context about the issue

Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), the only UK charity dedicated to raising awareness of and transforming responses to economic abuse, shares stories from survivors on why the new Code is so important


Wednesday 10th October 2018: UK – Today, the financial services industry has introduced a voluntary Code of Practice to guide how banks and building societies respond to victims of financial abuse. This will bring increased awareness and better understanding of what financial abuse looks like – enabling financial institutions to reach out to customers and ensuring more consistency in the support available for those who need it.

Surviving Economic Abuse, the only UK charity specialising in this field, welcomes the Code and would like to provide some context from our own understanding of the issue.

SEA director, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs states: “Through this Code, UK Finance has created a powerful ‘invitation to tell’ which, combined with the training proposed, means that responses to customers should be more informed and consistent going forward. It is a great first step and we look forward to seeing advancement of knowledge and protocol within banks and other financial institutions across the country.”

SEA sits on UK Finances’ Financial Abuse Project Group and Consumer Advisory Group, which advised on the formation of this code.


Background information

Financial abuse commonly involves withholding information about household finances, controlling access to personal/joint finances and creating financial obligations in the name of the victim either without their knowledge or through coercion. (Financial abuse is part of economic abuse which involves interfering with a partner’s ability to acquire, use and maintain not only money but economic resources (such as housing, transportation) more broadly.) This makes unravelling the extent of financial obligations post-relationship extremely challenging. Being financially linked to an abusive partner post separation can also be dangerous.

This is not routinely understood by financial institutions, including banks. The following examples, shared by women from SEA’s Experts by Experience group, highlight how banks and financial institutions can inadvertently facilitate financial abuse:

  • Banks do not typically understand the realities and dynamics of financial abuse. As such, survivors can feel unsupported and even blamed. One woman describes being treated as though she was on a ‘Jeremy Kyle’ chat show when staff gathered around in her local branch to look at how the abuser had depleted the funds in her bank account.
  • Survivors may be jointly liable for debts run up by the perpetrator when they are the joint account holder. Yet it is common for the perpetrator not to engage with the bank, meaning it is the victim who is then chased for repayment.

“We had a joint account and he ran up bills, which I was liable for. He left and the bank couldn’t get hold of him.”

  • There is a lack of scrutiny around the operation of joint accounts. One woman described to SEA how her bank did not notice that the abuser routinely drained money and credit out of the account. Although he had thousands of pounds going into his personal account, he never paid into the joint account and bills were not paid. When the overdraft built up, it was she who was encouraged to take a personal loan out to pay it off, eventually leaving her with a debt of £58,000.

“Branch staff accidentally left the screen of his bank transactions visible while in branch – they knew, and I knew he had enough money to pay the overdraft he was trying to make me pay for him, 5 years after the divorce.”

  • Abusers may add their partner as a secondary account holder without their knowledge. This leads to situations in which the bank requires the ex-partner’s permission to remove them from the account when they find out.
  • Non-payment of mortgage to the point of repossession is a common experience. One woman described how she was taken to court by the bank. She was assessed as above the Legal Aid threshold but had no money and so had to represent herself which was a stressful and frightening process.
  • Inadvertent administrative errors are also cited as a key issue. One woman explained how, after moving into a safe home with a secret address to protect her from her abuser, the bank sent a ‘standard’ letter explaining about a change in interest rates, addressed to both her and her ex-husband and with both their addresses on.

“I was horrified. I immediately telephoned the bank who told me it was only a standard letter and nothing to be concerned about. I explained my situation, that I needed to be safe and that the joint account had been closed some 3 months previously – I was told that standard letters are prepared months in advance and there was nothing they could do. They said I had to just phone the police. Obviously, I had already done that but the damage had been done. I packed my bags and moved that night.”

These stories demonstrate the huge impact that the Code of Practice could have by enabling staff to identify and respond to financial abuse, supporting victims to reclaim control of their finances and linking them into specialist domestic abuse services.

When financial institutions do respond effectively women tell us:

  • I found a senior person in the bank who advocated on my behalf from within. His advice made a huge difference.”
  • “I felt 100% supported to the extent that they texted me encouraging and supportive words each day before court facing my abuser.”


  • SEA is hosting a conference on this issue on the 6th December. For more information, or to be added to our invite list please email [email protected]

Similarly, for further information on any of the above please contact [email protected] or call our press office on 07833 162 714