‘On the receiving end: how post can enable domestic abuse’ – New research from Citizen’s Advice

New research published by Citizen’s Advice (‘On the receiving end: how post can enable domestic abuse’) illustrates how survivors of abuse from intimate partners/family members have their post intercepted. It outlines how this facilitates economic abuse, through:

Disrupting access to information related to employment, benefits and finances so that survivors miss important information.

Examples include survivors missing:

  • A utility bill and reminder letters, leading to them getting into debt;
  • Collection notices and County Court judgements which may lead to them ending up with a poor credit rating;
  • A benefits letter containing an appointment date, leading to non-attendance at a benefits assessment, having benefits stopped, benefits sanctions; and
  • Forms from HMRC related to self-assessment leading to a fine and being paid too much child benefit (which has to be paid back with interest).

Perpetrators having access to information they find in survivors’ letters to control their finances. Two in five survivors who had their post intercepted said the perpetrator did this; and Citizen’s Advice estimates that survivors have lost £7.1 billion in the last 10 years as a result of perpetrators intercepting their post.

Behaviours included:

  • Using information sent through the post to take control of the survivor’s finances;
  • Taking out credit in the survivor’s name: 1 in 3 survivors who had their post intercepted said the perpetrator did this through applying for loans in their name, intercepting applications  and paperwork for credit cards, mortgages, loans and transfer of ownership and forging their signature;
  • Changing accounts into the survivor’s name and then stopping payments;
  • Checking how much money the survivor has;
  • Checking whether the survivor has spent money and what on;
  • Controlling how much of the survivor’s own money can be spent;
  • Using financial information such as new debit cards and PINs that came through the post to transfer, spend or withdraw money from the survivor’s account; and
  • Perpetrators taking cash gifts sent through the post by family, either as a gift or to help them with their situation.

Economic abuse through the interception of post also overlapped with other controlling tactics such as checking a survivor’s movements via bank statements; and seeing when and where survivors spend money on petrol.

Economic abuse via the interception of post was found to make it harder for victim-survivors to leave. They might have lost out on benefits, had little or no access to funds, been left in thousands of pounds of debt and have a poor credit rating, leaving them at risk of homelessness/struggling to rent privately. They might also struggle to manage their own finances, having never been allowed to do so.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO of SEA, said:

‘Many of these findings chime with what victim-survivors of economic abuse tell us.  We have worked with banks to ensure that post can be accessed at no additional cost so we are supportive of the recommendation that government should invest in an ‘Address and Collect’ service, provided at post offices.

It is vital that we close down all the mechanisms through which abusers are able to control, exploit and sabotage a victim’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources. As this research demonstrates, economic stability underpins physical safety.’

SEA is piloting a Domestic Violence Debt Advocate (DVDA) role within domestic abuse services in partnership with Money Advice Plus (MAP). The partnership is  advocating  that this model is adopted across the country and recognised as a vital part of specialist responses to domestic abuse.

Case study

The SEA/MAP Domestic Violence Debt Advocate (DVDA) provided support to a woman in a case that involved the perpetrator hiding, destroying and otherwise withholding post and other important documents when she lived with him. After she left the abuser broke into her property on several occasion and stole post. Things hit crisis point when she received notification that she was going to be made bankrupt (by creditors from a debt she was forced by him to take out). She had not received any earlier correspondence about this, so it was very likely that this had been taken by him. Because of the short notice, the DVDA had to work over the weekend and prepare a statement for the woman to take to court and negotiate with the creditor’s solicitors in order to get them to withdraw the bankruptcy claim.