Financial abuse & controlling behaviour

Woman showing empty purse

What is financial abuse?

Coercive and controlling abuse often involves money. It can feel impossible to break away from someone who is controlling your finances, but help is available. So, what is financial abuse? Read on as we look at the signs and symptoms and how to escape this kind of controlling behaviour.

Trigger warning: Discussion of abuse and abusive behaviours

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is when an abuser uses money to control another’s actions. People often only think of physical violence when it comes to domestic abuse, but abusive behaviour isn’t always violent. Controlling someone’s access to money can be just as problematic for the victim.

“Financial abuse is often part of a bigger picture of power and control in abusive relationships,” says Steve Connor of the National Centre for Domestic Violence. “Victims are left feeling unable to escape.” Figures from a survey conducted by the domestic abuse charity Refuge show 89% of women in abusive relationships have suffered from some form of controlling abuse related to their finances.

For more information on domestic violence and abuse, see this article.

Signs and symptoms of financial abuse

It’s not always obvious when you’re in an abusive relationship. Abusers can be highly manipulative and use methods like gaslighting to control their victim. Here are some typical signs of financial abuse:

  • Preventing someone from attending work or college.
  • Making it difficult for a person to keep a job.
  • Demanding money earned by a person is handed over.
  • Withholding money by controlling credit cards, debit cards or cheque books.
  • Controlling bank statements and accounts, telephone or computer access.
  • Running up debts in a person’s name.
  • Keeping Child Benefit or money allocated for bills and groceries for personal use.
  • Giving you gifts, but only because they expect things in return.
  • Making a person account for every penny they spend.

“Using money to threaten or manipulate another person is always financial abuse,” says Fiona Dwyer, National Children and Young People Officer at Women’s Aid. “And if you’re a younger person you probably don’t have much money in the first place, making you more vulnerable to this kind of controlling behaviour.”

If you think you might be being abused we’ve got another article on how to tell if you’re in an abusive relationship which might help. Also don’t hesitate to speak to our team if you want to talk to someone.

Escaping financial abuse

It’s important for any victim to remember it’s possible to leave the abusive relationship and to regain control of their finances. If you’re in this situation think about:

  • Starting to save – This may seem impossible, but try to put aside very small amounts that trusted friends and family can help you look after. 
  • Setting up your own bank account – To keep yourself safe use a different bank to the one your partner uses. Bank online, using a computer at work, college or in a public library, and tell the bank not to send anything to your home address. You can receive your statements online and pick up other items, such as cards, from your nearest branch.
  • Emergency support – If you don’t have enough money to pay for the essentials, like rent and bills, you may be able to apply for emergency money depending on your situation and whether you’re on benefits.
  • A civil court injunction – It’s possible to obtain an injunction against your abuser through the civil courts. You can also request not to be contacted by your abuser and demand the return of any financial documents, credit or debit cards. This is speedier than using the criminal courts and your abuser need not know the process is taking place. Contact the National Centre for Domestic Violence for free advice about this.

See our article on recovering from an abusive relationship for more support.

You can also use our relationship tool to understand your relationship dynamic, and learn what you can do if it’s not as healthy as it should be. Women’s aid protects women from domestic violence. Call their 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Next Steps

  • Women's aid protects women from domestic violence. Call their 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By The Mix Staff

Updated on 16-Dec-2022