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What is economic/financial abuse?

What is economic abuse – and how do I get help?

Vanessa Tsai
Written by  Vanessa Tsai
Donna McConnell
Reviewed by  Donna McConnell
10 min read
Updated: 21 Nov 2023

If someone in your life is controlling the way you make, spend, or manage your money, as well as controlling your access to necessities like housing, food, and employment, you may be experiencing economic abuse.

Economic abuse isn’t always talked about, and it can be difficult to recognise. Indeed, it might seem like benevolent behaviour at first: it may very well feel like your partner is taking care of your finances and looking out for your best interests. What seems like lending a helping hand can gradually grow into economic abuse – and it often occurs together with other forms of abuse.

Although it’s not always identified, it’s very common. According to a 2020 report by The Co-operative Bank and Refuge, nearly two out of five UK adults (39%) have experienced behaviours that can be defined as economic abuse.

What is economic/financial abuse?

Economic abuse and financial abuse are very similar, and often get used interchangeably when talking about such behaviours in a relationship. However, there’s a difference between the two.

Financial abuse is a subset of economic abuse. It involves controlling someone’s finances, stealing their money, or forcing someone to go into debt.

Economic abuse involves financial abuse, but it also incorporates other abusive behaviours one might use to control someone else’s economic situation, such as access to housing, food, and employment. Without access to necessities like these, it can be difficult to leave the abuser, meaning you become trapped in an abusive and controlling relationship

Economic abuse is a legally recognised form of domestic abuse. In a relationship, it rarely occurs by itself and is typically part of a wider pattern of abuse, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.

"Economic abuse can happen at any point in a relationship, as well as during and after separating from your partner."
Kara Gammell

Counsellor holding person's hand

Signs of economic abuse

Economic abuse can be hard to spot. It’s not sudden, and initially may feel like a positive thing – for example, it might seem like your partner is simply being caring or protective. 

It’s also often perpetrated alongside more obvious signs of abuse, such as physical abuse, so you might not consciously recognise it. Common signs to look out for include:

  • Taking charge of all financial matters – You might not have any knowledge of your outgoings, assets, bills or how much things cost, because your abuser ‘looks after’ it all

  • Controlling your spending – This could be monitoring or tracking your spending, limiting your ability to make purchases, or placing a spending cap on your bank account. The abuser might also take control of your possessions, such as your devices or car

  • Controlling how you access your money – Perhaps you’ve been told to pay your salary into your partner’s account or a joint account, and that you don’t need your own bank account. They might’ve taken your account details so you don’t have sole access to your personal accounts, or you might not have access to any joint accounts

  • Prevented from working or claiming benefits – By stopping you from getting income or funds, you become more dependent on your abuser, which gives them more control over you

  • Taking advantage of you – This could be stealing your money or property, misusing money in joint bank accounts, refusing to contribute to household costs, or running up debt in your name (often without your knowledge)

For more information on the signs of economic abuse, Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) has a helpful guide.

What resources and support are available?

If you’re experiencing economic abuse, you don’t have to go through it alone. Whether you’re looking for practical support or someone to talk to, there are plenty of resources out there that can provide help.

Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) has a comprehensive list of organisations that can provide specialist information and advice for people experiencing domestic abuse and financial difficulties.

Get help with domestic abuse

If you’re in immediate danger, call the police on 999. If you’re not in immediate danger but you’re concerned about your safety, you can call a domestic abuse helpline. They’ll be able to listen to your situation, offer specialist advice, and discuss options with you.

Helplines include:

  • The Financial Support Line – Get in touch by calling 0808 196 8845. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. It’s run in partnership between Money Advice Plus and Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), and offers specialist advice to people who are experiencing financial trouble in an abusive relationship

  • Women's Aid – It runs a nationwide network of local domestic abuse services. Get in touch via the online chat service, open Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 10am-6pm. You can also send them an email

  • National Domestic Abuse Helpline – Call its helpline on 0808 2000 247, open 24/7. If you can’t talk on the phone, you can get in contact via the online live chat, available Monday to Friday, 3pm-10pm

Get financial advice

As well as specialist support for those experiencing domestic abuse, you can get general financial advice and help with managing debt. By getting your finances and any debts in order, you’ll be in a better position to de-link your money from your abuser’s control.

Organisations include:

  • Debt Advice Foundation – Speak to a qualified debt advisor by calling 0800 043 4050. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm

  • StepChange – StepChange is a debt charity that provides free and confidential advice. Call its helpline on 0800 138 1111 to speak to a debt advisor. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am-8pm, and Saturday 9am-2pm

  • National Debtline – Another charity offering free expert advice, you can speak to an advisor by calling 0808 808 4000. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm, and Saturday 9:30am-1pm

Remember, it’s important to get advice from a qualified debt advisor before tackling any debts.

Talk to your bank

If it’s safe to do so, you can speak to someone at your bank or building society. They’ll may be able to help protect your banking information, by offering advice on:

  • Passwords and security – Your bank can send you a new card and PIN to an alternative address. They can also make one device your ‘trusted device’ – so, if someone tries to access your account using another device, further verification will be needed

  • Protecting your information – You can request they contact you in the way you feel is safest, whether that’s by physical mail or online-only correspondence

  • Additional safety measures – Your bank may be able to add additional safety measures to secure your account, such as a code word to get past security, or an untraceable sort code (meaning your sort code can’t be used to identify the location of your bank branch)

You can also ask them to record any instances of abuse on your account or flag your account if you’re worried about the risk of abuse happening. That way, any members of staff handling your account will be aware of your situation.

See what benefits you’re entitled to

In a financially abusive relationship, your abuser may have coerced you to give up employment or has prevented you from claiming benefits. 

If you currently have no sources of income, you may qualify for certain benefits. By getting the benefits you’re entitled to, you can begin to regain some financial independence from your abuser.

  • Find out what benefits you could be getting – Contact your local Citizens Advice for an appointment, or use Turn2Us’ online benefits calculator to find out what you’re entitled to

  • Apply for grants – If you’re facing financial difficulties, you may qualify for grants that offer financial assistance. Certain charities and organisations offer these – SEA has a list of grants and benefits you could get

  • Look to your local council – Your local council might have a welfare assistance scheme or fund in place for people experiencing financial difficulties. You can get in touch with your nearest Citizens Advice for more information

Our page on protecting your finances from economic abuse has more tips on how to protect yourself. 

Do what’s best for your situation. But remember, there’s always help available.