Coerced debt – The invisible marker of domestic abuse

  • New research from Surviving Economic Abuse has found forcing a partner into debt is a common tactic of domestic abuse.
  • 60% of domestic abuse victims are forced into debt.
  • The Economic Justice Project, a three year study, is the first of its kind in the UK. SEA also developed a unique screening tool informed by leading academics in the UK and the US.

See our resource for more statistics on coerced debt.

Pioneering research by Surviving Economic Abuse, the UK’s only charity dedicated to tackling economic abuse, has found that coerced debt is a common tactic used by domestic abusers. 

Perpetrators use debt as a means to control victims, restrict their choices, and cause extreme levels of economic hardship, often for years to come, sometimes even decades.

“The economic consequences are with me every single day…He gets to move on and I’m caught in this invisible chain pulling me back and dragging me down.”

Lucy* who was coerced into £20,000 of debt.

The Economic Justice Project screened nearly 300 victim-survivors of domestic abuse over the three year period and found:

  • The average total of covered debt is £4,600, (Highest amount is over £40,000)
  • The average number of creditors is 5 (Highest number is 27)

The project also revealed that victims of coerced debt face living on a knife-edge.

44% of debts were priority debts, meaning that victims were at the risk of the harshest punishments, including utilities being cut off, facing bailiffs, a court summons or homelessness.  Meanwhile, perpetrators who coerce and profit off the debt, maintain comfortable lifestyles and are not held accountable by creditors.

Common examples of coerced debt may include a victim being made to:

  • have sole responsibility for a lease, mortgage, utility service or household bill
  • take out a loan, mortgage or credit card
  • Purchase an item on credit.

Coerced debt and Covid-19

Separate research undertaken by SEA to understand the implications of Covid-19 on economic abuse has found that 35% of responses were ‘unsure’ if their perpetrator had taken out any new loans or credit in their name during lockdown. This significant figure makes plain the lack of economic agency and constant uncertainty victims face.

Through their Project, SEA worked with Money Advice Plus to help victims write off a total of £6000,000 worth of coerced debt. However, only one in four cases are resolved via a write-off request.

SEA is calling for the financial services sector to adopt a consistent policy position on coerced debt. Ultimately consumer law must be reformed so that coerced debt is recognised, victims can seek redress, and perpetrators are held accountable.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Founder and CEO of SEA said: “Over the years I have met many women coerced into thousands of pounds worth of debt by their ex-partner. They had left the abuser but faced many years paying back debts that they had never received anything from. This left them and their children struggling to survive, going without food and unable to make simple repairs to their home, whilst the abuser lived a comfortable life, enjoying holidays and a good standard of living. The injustice of this fuels my passion to challenge economic abuse and ensure women receive economic justice.”

For more information on the Economic Justice Project piloted with Money Advice Plus, Solace Women’s Aid and Advance and evaluated with Dr Olumide Adisa, Research Fellow and Head of Centre for Abuse Research at the University of Suffolk, check out our research and policy briefings. Full report to follow.