Financial Abuse


This form of control can start innocently enough, perhaps your partner asks to see a receipt for the supermarket shop, or explains that he or she opened your bank statement by mistake.

But such habits can build into controlling behaviours, which leave you in fear every time you open your wallet.

Financial abuse, as it is called, can involve your partner spending your jointly-earned money, taking out loans in your name, making you pay the utility bills, or scrutinising every penny you spend. Worse, it can be the fore-runner of even more serious emotional, or physical, abuse. For help with Domestic Abuse, please visit National Domestic Violence Helpline website or contact their 24 hour freephone helpline: 0808 2000 247.

While the vast majority of victims are women, men too can be vulnerable, particularly if they have disabilities.

Financial abuse occurs when an individual uses controlling behaviours to undermine the control of their partner or former partner over their own finances.

A financial abusers will use this control to destroy your confidence and ability to earn a living for yourself leaving you dependent on them.

Warning signs

A recent report for the TUC and the charity Women's Aid - called Unequal Trapped and Controlled - found that financial abuse was often the first sign of further emotional or domestic abuse.

The report explains the ten most frequent signs to look out for are a partner who:

  1. Takes important financial decisions without you

  2. Uses your credit/debit card without asking

  3. Controls your access to money, through credit cards or a bank account

  4. Takes your benefit payments, or wages

  5. Refuses to contribute to household bills or children's expenses

  6. Puts bills in your name, but does not contribute to them

  7. Takes out loans in your name - but does not help with repayments

  8. Takes money from your purse/ bank account

  9. Stops you working

  10. Uses you as a free source of labour

The Law

The law changed in December 2015, controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or family based relationships is now illegal. It carries a maximum prison sentence of 5 years, a fine or both. The new law recognises that domestic abuse extends beyond physical abuse and includes financial abuse and other behaviours.

Spot a Financial Abuse

1. Interfere with Employment

Financial abusers often use controlling behaviours to make one appear to be an unreliable employee. They often try to make the individual late, force them to leave work early, or even miss work altogether. It is also common for these controlling behaviours to spill over into the workplace by engaging in stalking or harassing behaviours. They may actively attempt to sabotage one’s performance or damage their reputation with a view to creating an avenue for total dependency on them (the perpetrator)

2. Hide Financial & Credit Decisions

Financially abusive partners often use controlling behaviours to keep individuals from having access to their financial documents, including income statements, banking documents or credit card bills. They may take out credit cards in their partner’s name, and possibly forge signatures on receipts and cheques. As a result the individuals may suddenly discover that they have agreed to be kept on a tight allowance with no access to emergency funds, possess bounced cheques and delinquent credit card bills ruining their credit rating.

All these form a range of controlling behaviours that financial abusers use to make life unbearable for their partners.

3. Deny Child Support

People who manage to successfully leave a financial abuser; may find that they use controlling behaviours to get out of paying child support. They will often refuse to pay for child support for the children and repeatedly make excuses for late or missing payments. It is not uncommon for financial abusers to submit falsified income documents to try to reduce payments. These controlling behaviours may even go as far as denying that the children belong to them.

4. Deny Child Contact​

Many non-resident parents report “cash for contact” demands where the financial abuser uses financial demands to control the amount of parenting time they can have with their children. These demands are over and above assessed child support and is often demanded in cash (some times in front of the children). Financially abusive former partners can also supply false information not only to employers and public agencies about their ex’s income or what they are paying towards the child support but also most damagingly to friends and family.

5. False Threats

One of the most common of the controlling behaviours used by financial abusers is the threat of calling social services. Financial abusers repeatedly tell their partners that they are bad parents, sowing a seed of doubt about their style of parenting. This ends up making them feel insecure and question their judgements about caring for their children. Financial abusers may threaten to stop any form of welfare support received by their partners, and may even go as far as stealing it to ensure there’s no money to live on.

6. Kick Partners Out of the House

Financial abusers will go through drastic measures to make sure their controlling behaviours have an impact on their partners. This may extend to threatening or actually kicking them out of the house, shutting off utilities, or making false claims with the goal of having their benefits revoked. At times these abusive and controlling behaviours actually get the entire family evicted because many landlords will not tolerate the yelling and other noises associated with domestic abuse.​

7. Refuse To Care For The Children

Financial abusers have no shame and will not think twice about using children as pawns in their emotionally controlling behaviours. They will often refuse to assist with the care of children, either through spending time with them or helping to pay for child care. They could also exercise their controlling behaviours on the children themselves, leaving them feeling unloved and abused.

8. Cause Legal Issues

One of the major impacts of dealing with the controlling behaviours of a financial abuser is the legal predicaments experienced by their partners. The perpetrators will frequently make false accusations with a view to creating difficulties within the legal system including contact and residence actions. Individuals may be threatened, stalked or harassed to the point where there is a need to file for a restraining order, which often leads to further controlling behaviours in retaliation. Equally, where parents are separated one may make false or unfounded allegations about the other’s behaviour or worth as a parent to prolong expensive correspondence between solicitors in the hope that the other will give up the struggle to see their children.

Further help

Childline - Domestic abuse

Aimed at children and young people living in homes where domestic violence is happening. The information includes getting support and making a safety plan.

Respect - for people concerned about an abuser

A helpline for domestic abuse perpetrators directing them to programmes in their local area. The helpline also takes calls from (ex)partners, friends and relatives who may be concerned about a perpetrator.

T: 0845 122 8606.

Women’s Aid - Recognising domestic violence

Includes questions, helping you recognise when you are in an abusive relationship.

Galop - Emotional and practical support for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic abuse

Abuse isn’t always physical - it can be psychological, emotional, financial and sexual too.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

A range of measures designed to support people who flee violent and abusive households. Explains what counts of domestic violence and abuse, and what help you might get.

Rights of Women - Domestic violence short film

Links to a short film for survivors of domestic violence explaining the ways the courts can help make the process of going to court safer and make it easier for you to take part in court hearings without feeling intimidated. Legal aid - eligibility for legal help

Explains the circumstances when you may be eligible for legal aid if you have experienced domestic abuse and the evidence you will need to show.

Refuge - domestic violence information

Organisation providing information about what to do if you have been the victim of domestic violence.

The NSPCC - keeping children safe

Explains what domestic abuse is, and contains links to its signs, symptoms and effects and keeping children safe.

English National Domestic Violence Helpline

T: 0808 2000 247

Galop (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people)

T: 0800 999 5428

Men’s Advice Line

T: 0808 801 0327

Rape Crisis (England and Wales)

T: 0808 802 9999

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline

T: 0800 027 1234

Scottish Women’s Aid

T: 0131 226 6606

Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline

T: 0808 80 10 800

Women’s Aid Federation (Northern Ireland)

T: 0800 917 1414