Financial abuse

Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse within a marriage or civil partnership and it can happen to men as well as women. If your partner is controlling your money or running up debts in your name, it's financial abuse and should be taken very seriously.

If you are a victim of financial abuse or any form of domestic abuse, it’s important to get help. Talk to your Unit Welfare Office in the first instance.

If you’re divorcing or separating and struggling to cope with violence or domestic abuse, there’s lots of help out there for you to draw on. Here are some of the things you can do and where to go for help and support.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse. It is a crime and should be reported to the police.

Financial abuse can take a lot of different forms so will look different within different relationships.

Often the abuse is perpetrated by a partner, but it can also come from other relationships, such as family members, friends and carers.

An abusive partner may stop you from having control over your money as a way of trying to exert power over you.

A financially-abusive partner may also be physically violent, but it’s not always the case. Financial abuse in the home – whether or not it’s accompanied by aggression or physical violence – can leave you feeling isolated, lacking in confidence and trapped.

Financial abuse from a family member, friend, partner or carer can look like:

  • someone taking out money or getting credit in your name without knowledge or permission
  • someone making you hand over control of your accounts
  • someone cashing in your pension or other cheques without your authorisation
  • they have added their name to your account
  • they have asked you to change your will
  • someone has offered to buy shopping or pay bills for you, but you don’t see this happening
  • you are being stopped from seeing other friends and family.

Financial abuse from a partner can look like:

  • they are stopping you from working or going to work
  • they are stopping you from going to college or university
  • being asked to account for every single thing you spend
  • you’re no longer able to get access to your financial services provider accounts
  • your partner has stopped you from spending on essential items
  • they have taken out credit cards and/or loans in your name
  • they have spent your household budget on things without telling you
  • your partner has put all the bills in your name.

You should know that taking these first steps is incredibly brave. It may seem scary but you don’t have to do this alone.

There are ways your bank, building society, lender or other financial service provider can help you. It’s so important to talk to someone.

Worried about Universal Credit single payments?

With the introduction of Universal Credit in England, Wales and Scotland, several existing benefits and tax credits are being combined into a single monthly payment. Couples who live together will make a joint claim for Universal Credit and it will usually be paid into one bank account. Child Benefit will remain as a separate benefit outside Universal Credit.

When you make your claim you will be asked which bank account you want to have your money paid into. If you and your partner do not agree on an account for your Universal Credit payments, then the Jobcentre Plus will nominate one.

If you’re worried about your partner controlling all your benefit income and leaving you (and your children) without any cash, you should ask someone at the Jobcentre Plus if you can have your Universal Credit paid into your own account or split into separate payments.

That way, you will get money for yourself (and your children) and your partner will get a separate payment. This is an option for anyone in ‘exceptional circumstances’, for example anyone who is at risk of domestic or financial abuse.

Where you can get advice

If you or your children are in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

If you are not in immediate danger, there are a number of organisations that can give you help and advice.  Talk to your Unit Welfare Office in the first instance.

Women's Aid

Women’s Aid can offer help and support if you’re experiencing financial abuse. Your local Women’s Aid organisation might also be able to recommend a suitable solicitor if you need one. You can find information on their websites or by calling their helpline.

  • In England go onto the Women’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on 0808 2000 247
  • In Wales , go onto the Welsh Women’s Aid website or call the All-Wales 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 80 10 800
  • In Northern Ireland go onto the Women’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 802 1414
  • In Scotland go onto the Scottish Women’s Aid website or call the Freephone 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0800 027 1234

Men’s Advice Line

Call the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 8010 327. It’s free from landlines and most mobile phones.

It provides emotional support, practical advice and can signpost you to other services for specialist help. Alternatively, you can visit the Men’s Advice Line website.

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline

Emotional and practical support for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic, emotional, or financial abuse.

Call them on 0800 9995 428 or email them at help@galop.org.uk

Alternative, visit the Galop website for help dealing with domestic abuse.

How to leave safely

If you want to leave your partner, there are a series of steps you can take to ensure your safety and make sure your finances will be as manageable as possible.

  • Keep a record of each incident. Take photographs of any physical harm to you, your home or things you own 
  • Report each incident to your local police and doctor so that they keep a record
  • Contact a family law solicitor
  • Make a safety plan in case you need to leave your home in an emergency 

You may be able to get legal aid to help pay the costs of legal advice for taking legal action to protect you and your children. Look for a solicitor who takes legal aid cases. 

Important documents

If you want to separate from your partner, try and gather together important paperwork before you need to leave.

Try to find:

  • Passports
  • Birth certificates (yours and your children’s)
  • Payslips and/or benefit award letters
  • Tax documents, such as your P60 and P45
  • Your National Insurance number
  • Bank statements
  • Documents proving ownership of any belongings
  • Credit card bills and other bills that are in your name or in joint names

If it’s not possible – or not safe – to take the originals, then try making copies, or write down key information such as account numbers. But you shouldn’t take information you can’t get access to easily (for example, you shouldn’t access your partner’s computer without their permission).

Where to get cash in an emergency

If you have to leave in a hurry and you have no access to cash, contact your local authority (or the devolved administration in Wales) to see if they can help you with emergency support.

MoD assistance 

If you need to get away from an abusive relationship, the MOD provides temporary accommodation at the Services Cotswold Centre for estranged families.

You can also find more information and guidance specifically for those affected by or dealing with cases of domestic abuse in the armed forces community on Gov.uk.

Things to consider

Passwords and security
If you have given a partner, family members, friends etc passwords. It’s important to change them ASAP so the abuser doesn’t have access to your personal accounts.

Read more on how you create a strong password.

Letters and bank statements
If you can, try and figure out where all your important documents are. This will make it much easier to open new accounts, claim benefits or apply for jobs in the future.

If you don’t know where these are or can’t keep hold of them, there are still things you can do.. Try and write down or memorise any important information or numbers so account providers can help find you on the system, for example, your National Insurance number and account number. This will make it easier for your financial services provider to find you on their system.

Keeping your information safe
You don’t want information from your financial service providers getting into the wrong hands. Think about where your letters are, and where they are being posted to.

If you don’t want them going to the same address, ask your financial services provider to send them elsewhere.

It’s important to note that some transactions on your bank statements can give away where you are (such as what cash machine’s you’ve used), so it’s important to keep this information as safe as possible.

Joint accounts
If you have a joint account with your partner or ex-partner you can talk to your bank or building society about your options.

If you are worried about money being taken out of your account without your permission, you can ask that your bank or building society only act on instructions from both or all account holders. This means payments can’t come out without joint instructions, on a practical level this may mean you’re regular payment, cards and online access is suspended.

Be warned, your abuser can also suspend your joint account limiting your access to money. You can check how you are financially connected to someone by accessing your free online credit report.

Read more information on sorting out joint bank account, insurance and bills

Opening a new account
You might want to open a new account as this will help separate your money from the abuser.

If you don’t want your personal documents to be delivered to your home, speak to your provider about getting them posted elsewhere.

To open a new bank account, you will need to provide identification and an alternative address. If you aren’t able to get your hands on these documents, explain your situation to your financial services provider to see how they can help. They are often able to accept letters from a refuge, social worker or local authority.

Review your payments
If you’re not sure what’s coming in and coming out of your bank account, contact your provider and they can help you work out with this information. It might be a good idea to fill out a budget planner, which can help you plan your money a bit more, so you know where you are with your daily finances.

Credit rating
A lot of financial changes may shake up your credit rating somewhat. Whenever you apply for an overdraft, credit card and loan, it is recorded on your credit report.

Your report can be negatively impacted by missing repayments, going over your credit limits or taking out a lot of new credit.

All this could mean that due to your financial abuse, your credit rating could be impacted – especially if someone has taken out credit in your name.

Keeping an eye on your credit score is important because a low rating might make it harder to apply for credit in the future. Read our credit rating guide which will tell you everything you need to know.

Credit cards
Typically, if you have a credit card, one of you will have applied for it in just one name and would be the ‘primary cardholder’.

Unlike with joint accounts, only the primary cardholder is responsible for the card even if the other person spends on it, or has an additional card and is the ‘secondary cardholder’. The secondary cardholder will not legally have to pay anything back.

If you are the primary cardholder, you might want to get the other person removed from your account to stop them spending any more money.

Third party access

If you need extra support, you may want to give a trusted person additional access to your finances. This can be particularly helpful if you’re not always able to get into a branch, need someone to call or speak to someone in your bank or building society, or just don’t feel confident to do it on your own.

Mortgages
If you have a joint mortgage with your abuser, you will still be equally responsible for the mortgage repayments.

If you need it, you can speak to your mortgage provider and get a statement with the outstanding balance and payment information sent to an alternative address.

Dealing with debts
Some abusers will take out loans, overdrafts or credit cards in your name, or use your property for security for a loan, either with or without your knowledge and consent.

It’s worth accessing your free credit report online to see what credit is against your name. If you do think other accounts have been opened in your name, you can also register with Cifas, which for a fee offers a Protective Registration service which will contact you to verify any further account applications in your name.

Be aware that by being registered with Cifas, it can slow down applications for credit as they will need to manually check the application.

If you’re struggling with debt, it can be hard to know where to turn. But with lots of free advice services available across the UK, you can find help in a way that’s best for you.

Protecting your finances during divorce or separation

Learn how to protect your finances during divorce or dissolution or protect your finances during separation if you were cohabiting.

Protecting your finances in old age or if you’re ill

Here is our guide to how you can protect your finances in old age or if you’re unwell.

More info

For more info you can download this UK Finance guide on how financial services firms can help if you are a victim of financial abuse.

Last reviewed: 22/01/2019

This content has been provided by the Money Advice Service