Domestic financial abuse is shockingly prevalent, with a new study showing that one in five Brits have been victims at some point in their life. Victims have been controlled, sabotaged or exploited by their partner, who wants to stop them having control of their own money.
The horrifying findings were uncovered by The Co-operative Bank and Refuge, the national domestic abuse charity. Laura Carstensen, chair of The Co-operative Bank's Values and Ethics Committee, said: "This study lifts the lid on the true extent of financial abuse in relationships in the UK. While other types of domestic abuse are well-documented, the impact of this kind of coercive control where money is used as a weapon within an intimate relationship is not yet fully understood."
Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, added: "Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence and the consequences of this type of abuse can be both devastating and long-lasting. Some women are forced to hand over their wages or benefits to their partner every month. Others are prevented from going out to work or completing their education."
"Many victims are forced to provide receipts, accounting for every single penny they spend or are given such ridiculously small 'allowances' they can't afford to buy food for themselves and their children. Some are forced into debt, shackled to a past relationship through a churn of constant bills and repayments."
They found that victims spanned all ages, income groups and both genders - although 60% of cases were reported by women. Financial abuse against women tended to be triggered by a life event, such as moving in with a partner, getting married or having children. For 78% of women, the abuse continues for five years or longer.
For those who have never experienced financial abuse, it can be difficult to understand how anyone can end up in this position. Part of the problem, revealed by the study, was that at the beginning of a relationship people don't understand what financial abuse is, so they gradually find themselves drawn into the control of the abuser because they don't know what to watch for.
The study also found that financial abuse is frequently used against people at the same time as psychological abuse. It's easier to see why someone would be willing to hand over their wages and live on a meagre income if their lives would be made a living hell if they refused.
Finally, for women in particular, the abuse begins after they have made a significant commitment such as moving in together or getting married. The survey found that three quarters of victims have at least one child. Victims can therefore feel trapped in the relationship - especially when their abuser is routinely removing their access to the money they would need to start afresh.
It goes to show how important it is to recognise this form of abuse as quickly as possible. The study identified the most common signs of financial abuse. These include their partner using money as a form of manipulation, making significant financial decisions without consulting them, demanding evidence of spending, taking financial assets without permission, and monitoring their personal spending.
Other signs included their partner putting debts in their name and them being afraid to say no, their partner stopping them from working, not allowing them a savings account or their own bank account, destroying their property, and gambling with their money.
The bank is calling for a code of practice to help banks respond effectively to reports of financial abuse. They also want banks to produce information to help people recognise and cope with financial abuse.
In the meantime, if you feel you have become a victim of financial abuse, you can approach a charity like Refuge for advice. There is no obligation to take any specific action, and victims are not placed under any pressure. Instead they will explain your options, and help you identify a way through the abuse.