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Addressing Financial Abuse

Evidence type: Insight i


Financial abuse in an intimate relationship is a method of controlling a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain their own money and financial resources. One-in-five women and one-in-seven men in the UK have experienced financial abuse. Just over a third of these people were experiencing it within their current relationship, with a similar proportion telling no one. Research has shown women are most likely to suffer from financial abuse, and they are the least likely to tell their banks about the problem. Women are also twice as likely as men to be victims of domestic abuse, of which financial abuse is a key aspect, and are more likely to experience repeated abuse.

The study:

This 2016 report from Citizens Advice and the British Bankers Association presents a framework comprising seven recommendations for tackling financial and domestic abuse. It was developed by banks, lenders, advice services, debt collectors, utility companies and Government bodies. Examples of financial abuse given include the perpetrator:

  • Taking out credit and running up debts in their partner’s name;
  • Taking control of finances to prevent a partner escaping abuse;
  • Stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job;
  • Making a partner surrender control of their bank accounts, assets, wages or other income;
  • Forcing a partner to ask for money
  • Stealing or committing fraud;
  • Refusing to contribute to household costs.

Key findings:

This section summarises the seven recommendations put forward within this framework.

  1. Validate disclosures – people need an accepting and helpful response when they disclose abuse. The act of disclosure can be extremely challenging for some victims. Staff who respond well to being told about abuse can make a significant difference, whereas if the victim finds the response to be distant or disbelieving it may cause them stress and trauma, and set back the process of reaching out for help.
  2. Protect confidentiality – customers affected by abuse need a tailored approach to keeping them and their information safe. When someone is affected by abuse, communications that could be thought of as being helpful to a customer can expose them to further abuse and harm. For example, letters or joint communications can alert an abuser to their victim reaching out. The firm must consider appropriate actions on an individual basis for that customer.
  3. Offer, refer or signpost to the right source of help – organisations need to be able to support customers to get timely access to appropriate sources of help. Organisations need a process that staff members can use if they believe anyone is at serious risk of harm.
  4. Be proactive – people can find it easier to disclose abuse and access help if individuals and organisations cultivate a climate where abuse is talked about more often. The report includes several sub-recommendations for identifying ways for firms to proactively challenge abuse.
  5. Help victims to regain control of their financial affairs – customers need organisations to help minimise the barriers they face in dealing with the effects of domestic and financial abuse and in managing their own affairs. Again, the report includes several sub-recommendations for identifying ways to do this.
  6. Offer forbearance – victims of abuse are likely to find it more difficult to deal with their debt problems and will need more support and understanding from their creditors than most customers. Systems need to be able to take into account the specific circumstances of victims of financial abuse.
  7. Develop and implement a policy across your organisation – people who contact organisations about problems arising from abuse need the organisation to be ready to help. Rather than having to rely on coming across a helpful individual, organisations need to be consistent and offer sensible, flexible and responsive support to customers affected by abuse. It is recommended that organisations develop training programmes on understanding abuse and dealing well with customers experiencing it.

Points to consider:

Methodological strengths and limitations:

  • While there is no detailed methodology, this framework was produced by a working group of experts and relevant stakeholders. However, there may be issues not recognised here, and as the authors acknowledge every abuse victim will have bespoke circumstances, that may not fit neatly into organisational processes.


  • This report is relevant to anyone looking to introduce interventions to help victims of financial abuse, and to those looking to train people in how to deal with abuse victims.

Generalisability/ transferability:

  • The recommendations produced by this framework are generalisable throughout the United Kingdom, though see above regarding individual situations requiring tailored responses.

Key info

Year of publication
Contact information

Citizens Advice/British Bankers Association Alistair Chisholm (CAB)Citizens Advice