What is economic abuse?

“Money doesn’t make you happy but without money, there’s nowhere to go. That’s why, for me, economic abuse is the greatest form of control.”   

Domestic abuse takes many forms. Abusers may restrict, exploit and sabotage their partner’s access to money and other resources, such as food, clothing, transportation and a place to live. This is economic abuse, and it is designed to limit someone’s freedom.   

It is commonly experienced within a pattern of behaviour known as coercive control

1 in 5 adults in the UK has experienced economic abuse from a current or former partner.

Economic abuse can take many forms. An abuser might do any of the following:  

Sabotage how you acquire money and economic resources 

They might: 

  • prevent you from being in education or employment 
  • limit your working hours
  • take your pay 
  • refuse to let you claim benefits 
  • take children’s savings or birthday money 
  • refuse to let you access a bank account 

Restrict how you use money and economic resources 

They might: 

  • control when and how money is spent 
  • dictate what you can buy  
  • make you ask for money or provide an allowance 
  • check your receipts 
  • make you keep a spending diary 
  • make you justify every purchase made 
  • control the use of property, such as a mobile phone or car  
  • insist all economic assets (e.g., savings, house) are in their name  
  • keep financial information secret 

Exploit your ability to maintain economic resources 

They might: 

  • steal your money or property 
  • cause damage to your property 
  • refuse to contribute to household costs  
  • spend money needed for household items and bills 
  • misuse money in joint bank accounts 
  • insist all bills, credit cards and loans are in your name and make you pay them 
  • build up debt in your name, sometimes without your knowledge 

Financial abuse vs. economic abuse

People commonly use the terms economic abuse and financial abuse interchangeably, since they involve similar behaviours. It can be helpful to think of financial abuse as a subcategory of economic abuse.

If you have experienced economic abuse, you are not alone. There are people and organisations that can help.  

Check out our guide or read our resources to learn more about economic abuse and what you can do. If you are a professional looking for more information, our ‘Research and evaluation’ page compiles the latest relevant research on economic abuse, both within the UK and from our international network.