How to protect your finances from economic abuse
If you’re experiencing economic abuse in a relationship, you might be wondering how to protect your finances and yourself.
Depending on your circumstances, you may not be able to leave or distance yourself from the situation you’re in. However, there are steps you can take towards economic safety and regaining some control over your own finances.
Only do what’s right for your situation – you’re the best judge of whether something is safe to do.
Gather your information and important documents
It’s always useful to have all your important information to hand, as you’ll need it for things like opening a bank account, starting a new job, or applying for benefits.
For example, when opening a bank account, you’ll usually need to show two documents: a proof of identity, and a separate proof of address. If you don’t have access to these original documents – for example, if your abuser has hidden them from you – try to take scanned copies or screenshots.
If you’re unable to make copies, you can instead note down important information, such as your National Insurance number.
If possible, you could keep documents with someone you trust, rather than at home where your abuser might be able to take them.
Secure your accounts and devices
Keeping your bank and email accounts safe is a way of protecting yourself from further harm and placing your finances beyond your abuser’s control.
If you’re able to, change the passwords to your email and other online accounts so no one else can log in to them, as well as the PINs for your banking accounts. You can also protect your devices so only you can access them.
You can add two-factor authentication to your banking apps. This means you’re required to provide one extra piece of information whenever you log in – which provides another layer of security against anyone trying to access your account.
Open a new bank account
One major step to regaining control of your finances is by having a bank account that your abuser can’t access. Banks and building societies will be able to help you do this safely.
When opening a new bank account, you’ll need to provide an address for the bank to send any letters, statements and cards to you. So, it’s important to use an address where your abuser can’t intercept correspondence from your bank, such as a trusted friend or family member’s address.
It’s worth checking if your bank has signed up to the UK Finance 2021 Financial Abuse Code. It’s a commitment from banks to support vulnerable customers, such as accepting alternative documents as proof of your identity (if you’re unable to safely provide standard documents).
Create an escape fund
Economic abuse puts you in a vulnerable position where you may not have access to money – which, in turn, makes it more difficult to leave a bad situation. So, if you’re able to, try to put aside small amounts of money to build up an ‘escape fund.’
This might be tricky, particularly if you don’t have access to any sources of income, or if your abuser is monitoring your accounts. You might find it easier to keep a physical fund, or opening a new, separate bank account (see above).
Ways to raise extra money include:
Selling unwanted items on second-hand sites
Doing cash-in-hand odd jobs
Saving gift money from friends and family
Keeping change when paying for your food shop
Using credit/debit cards and other programmes to earn cashback
Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) has an informative page on creating an escape fund, as well as what to do if you’re preparing to leave an abusive relationship.
Deal with debts
You may have joint debts with your abuser, such as a mortgage, loan or an overdraft on your joint bank account. If your abuser has run up debts in your name, such as overspending on your credit card or taking out a loan without your knowledge, this is called ‘coerced debt.’
It’s important to seek advice before tackling any debts, as some solutions have negative long-term consequences. Try and speak to a qualified debt advisor first – there are many free helplines available. Our page What is economic abuse? has more information.
"A debt advisor will be able to listen to you, offer practical help to deal with debts and act as an advocate, such as explaining your situation to the lender and asking them to write off your debt."
– Kara Gammell
Check your credit rating
You may also be concerned about the impact on your credit rating, particularly if you have a joint account or if your abuser has taken out credit in your name. A low credit score can affect whether you’ll be accepted for a credit card, mortgage, car finance, and even phone contract in the future.
Again, it’s best to speak to a debt advisor about your credit rating. It can be difficult to improve your credit rating while you’re still financially connected to your abuser (known as a ‘financial association’).
Nevertheless, once you begin taking steps to separate your finances – such as dealing with debts attached to your name and closing joint accounts – you’ll be able to remove your financial association with your abuser.
To protect your details from future harm, you can also ask credit reference agencies (the three main ones being Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to add a password notice of correction (NOC) to your account. This means that you’ll need to give your chosen password whenever you make a new credit application – as a result, your abuser won’t be able to apply for credit in your name.
You can also sign up to the free Vulnerability Registration Service to make sure any credit applications made in your name are automatically declined. And if you think you might apply for credit in future, you can set up a referral flag, which means you'll have to give verbal consent before any applications can be approved.
SEA has a guide on de-linking your finances from your abuser’s.
In the meantime, you can use our online Credit Monitor tool to check your credit score – it’s free and quick to use, and it won’t affect your credit rating.
Get in touch with a helpline
Although an abusive relationship can leave you feeling isolated, it’s important to remember that there is help available if you need it. Whether you’re looking for practical support or simply someone to talk to, you don’t have to go through your situation alone.
There are many organisations dedicated to offering advice and support for people experiencing domestic abuse and financial difficulties. Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) has a comprehensive list of organisations and helplines you can contact.
You can also visit our page on economic abuse, which has more information on the help you can get.