One year on from the Domestic Abuse Act: Rights and remedies for victims of economic abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act received royal assent on 29 April 2021, marking a welcome commitment from the Government to transform its response to domestic abuse. One of the key aspects of the Act was the recognition of economic abuse as a form of domestic abuse.

As the anniversary of the Act approaches, we look at the rights and remedies available to victims and survivors of economic abuse.

Progress achieved by the Act has been highlighted in a new report “Legal Rights and Remedies for Economic Abuse”,  by global law firm Hogan Lovells, in collaboration with Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA). The report is the first of its kind in the UK and was published to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2022. It is a guide to help professionals find their way through the various legal routes for compensation, and practical issues to be navigated, when someone is experiencing economic abuse.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse. It involves the control of a partner’s or ex-partner’s economic resources, including money and the things that money can buy, such as accommodation, food or transport. Despite affecting the majority of those experiencing domestic abuse in the UK, economic abuse has rarely been given focus in public and political spheres. However, it can be devastating and has long-lasting effects for individuals who have experienced or continue to experience abuse even after leaving a perpetrator.

What does this report cover?

The report covers a range of possible routes of reparation for victims of abuse who are or were in an intimate relationship with an abuser. These are set out at a relatively high level, so as to be as helpful as possible to as many people as possible.

It also advocates for 6 key areas of change:

  1. Prosecutors should consider charging abusers with multiple offences (including, in particular, the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour offence where relevant).
  2. Front line workers need to have a greater awareness of the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour offence.
  3. Prosecutors should use the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour offence in tandem with the offence set out in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2000 so that victims can be compensated for their economic loss.
  4. The Controlling or Coercive Behaviour offence remains in need of reform.
  5. Legal professionals should advocate for occupation orders that set out financial arrangements as well as where people will live.
  6. For renters affected by economic abuse, if safe to do so, it may be worth working out a way forward for living arrangements with their landlords.

Survivors’ voices

Please note this case study has been reproduced for the purposes of this blog post with the consent of the expert in question.

To illustrate the complex and often hidden nature of economic abuse, the authors incorporated the voices of people with lived experience of economic abuse throughout the report.

We have reproduced one of these powerful testimonies below:

The Expert (“E”) is a survivor of domestic abuse but it was luck that saved her life, not the system. A week after leaving her partner (“P”) , E found him waiting in the boot of her car with a knife and cable ties. After E escaped, P fled in the car, which was impounded when he was caught by the police.

Thanks to the support of the detective on her case, E received the full value of the car from her insurance company. This allowed E to avoid the terrible choice between the trauma of driving the car that she was nearly killed in and not having a vehicle to get to work.

E has not always received the support that she required. When E first went to the police, the initial detective said that E should consider herself lucky because P had agreed to write a letter apologising to her. P was then bailed just days before the kidnap attempt.

E obtained an injunction restraining P. The family court quickly granted the order, but E had no support in pursuing the injunction and had to do everything herself. For someone less comfortable with the legal system, E feels that this would have been impossible.

During the trial, E’s employer failed to support her, requiring her to take annual leave to give evidence. The victim support service also failed E and ignored her calls about important parole hearings.

E’s experience shows what a survivor of abuse can achieve when they have a degree of financial independence and receive support from the police. But E feels that the system of support for victims of abuse remains a lottery, and E has been badly let down on other occasions.”

You can read more experiences from victim-survivors of economic abuse in the full report.

Read the full report here.