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Economic abuse cases rise but most people unaware of how to help victims

Rebecca Goodman
Written By:
Rebecca Goodman

One in 10 people, or 11%, have been a victim of financial abuse yet few people know how to recognise the signs that a friend or family member is a victim.

This figure rises to 15% for those aged 18 to 24 and 17% for those with children at home.

Yet just 8% of adults said they think a friend has been a victim and only 6% said they think a family member has. Meanwhile 72% say they don’t know anyone who has faced financial abuse, according to a study of 2,000 adults by Hargreaves Lansdown.

New crime statistics for England and Wales also show that in the year to March 2022, the number of police recorded domestic abuse-related crimes rose 7.7%, to 910,980.

However, the estimated number of cases was far higher. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 5.0% of adults (6.9% women and 3.0% men) aged 16 years and over experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022.

This equates to an estimated 2.4 million adults (1.7 million women and 699,000 men).

These crimes cover a number of behaviours. Partner abuse is a subcategory of domestic abuse in the crime statistics, and 85% of domestic partner abuse is non-violent, and of this 69% is emotional or financial abuse.

Figures are also expected to rise during the cost-of-living crisis. The charity Women’s Aid said the crisis is preventing victims from leaving their abusive partners.

Two-thirds (66%) of survivors told the charity that abusers are now using the cost-of-living increase as a tool for coercive control, justifying further restricting their access to money.

“No surprise” to see a rise in financial abuse

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst for Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “When life is impossibly expensive, it’s not a surprise to see a rise in financial abuse. And to make matters worse, those same rising bills and rents make it even more difficult for victims to leave.

“It means we all need to know how to spot if someone is going through this, and understand how to help our loved ones if they’re suffering.

“It comes in all sorts of different guises, so it’s worth understanding exactly what it entails. And because victims may feel ashamed of what’s happened to them, or too afraid to talk about it, we need to know how to spot the signs, so we can step in when we need to.”

How to spot the signs of economic abuse

One in six people have experienced financial abuse, according to the organisation Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), yet over a third told no one when it was happening to them.

The research from Hargreaves Lansdown shows that many people are unaware friends and family members are victims of economic abuse.

While it comes in many forms, some signs to look out for include when someone you know does the following:

  • Starts spending less, not going out as much, or going without vital things such as winter clothes
  • Changes working patterns or stops studying
  • Using cash more than cards or forgetting to bring money with them
  • They become more anxious and change their attitude
  • Losing track of their finances, or not knowing about their money
  • Withdrawing from friends and family

There is a guide on spotting the signs of financial abuse on the SEA website.

Where to go for help

If you’re in danger, call 999 and the police can help. They can take legal action to force your partner to leave your home, and stay away. If you have been forced to flee without your belongings, they can come home with you to fetch essential items.

There are detailed guides, advice, and help available at a number of organisations including Surviving Economic Abuse, Refuge  and Women’s Aid.

You could also contact The National Domestic Abuse Helpline run by Refuge (0808 2000 247) or The Financial Support Line for Victims of Domestic abuse which is run by Money Advice Plus on 0800 196 8843.

A number of banks, including HSBC, also offer safe spaces in some branches. They are private and discrete areas where people can access specialist support and advice including being able to call a local helpline, contact a support service, or talk to a friend or family member.