Martin Lewis explains ‘financial abuse’: How to spot the signs and get help

Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert, appeared on ITV’s This Morning today to talk about the “hidden cousin of domestic abuse”, better known as financial abuse. “It’s all about dangerous, unfair, control of finances. It can be subtle or brutal. “So be aware of it, both for your own relationship, and for others,” he explained to viewers of the show. He went on to talk about the signs of financial abuse and what one should do if they find themselves or know of anyone in a similar situation.

Financial abuse is the hidden cousin of domestic abuse – it’s all about dangerous, unfair, control of finances. It can be subtle or brutal.

Martin Lewis

What is financial abuse?

“Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence. It’s defined as someone controlling another adult’s access to their finances or ability to earn money, in order to reduce their independence and force reliance,” Martin revealed.

He added: “Typical examples include someone forcing or coercing you to add them to your bank account, pressuring you to take out debt for them in your name, or emotionally blackmailing you to pay their bills.

“There is a subset of economic abuse, which also includes things like restriction to transport, clothes, food and other necessities.”

Martin informed viewers of a new law, which will make financial abuse a criminal offence.

In January 2019, the Domestic Abuse bill was published, which when enacted will make financial abuse a crime within the definition of domestic violence.

He continued: “Even though that isn’t enacted yet, financial abuse is effectively a form of ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ and that can be prosecuted under the 2015 legislation that covers this, so if you feel scared or intimidated always report it to the police.”

Martin detailed: “In its survey last year, Woman’s Aid reported that of 19,000 survivors of domestic abuse, about 8,000 suffered financial abuse, as did 60 percent of women living in refuge centres.

“Though it’s likely there are far more cases than just those reported – and this isn’t only an issue that happens to women.”

What are the signs of financial abuse – where to get help?

It may be difficult to recognise, but it’s important to remember there is help available.

“It can start with innocent requests for money, taking cash from your purse or wallet without asking, or even a caring suggestion that you stay at home or look after the children while they go out to work,” Martin explained.

“Of course, on its own these may be perfectly normal, kind and acceptable. However, if a partner starts to become aggressive, coercive or manipulative, whether physically or psychologically, to deprive you of your independence, then these are red flags.”

Martin outlined some places to turn to for help, and said: “If you find yourself in this situation, it’s worth getting guidance from charities such as:

  • The National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 in England, 0808 801 0800 in Wales, 0800 027 1234 in Scotland and 0808 802 1414 in Northern Ireland. This is run in partnership with Women’s Aid and Refuge.
  • Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327.
  • National LGBT and Domestic Abuse helpline on 0800 999 5428.

“These charities are there to support you emotionally and practically – so don’t be scared to call. Though again, remember if you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999.”

Martin added that it’s not just individuals in a physically abusive relationship who may face financial abuse, but customers may also be worried if they have a joint account with a partner, or if they’re unsure whether their partner has taken out debt in their name.

He shared some of his top tips for avoiding this, which include:

  • Checking your credit report – Look out for applications and unusual products that you didn’t apply for. If it’s happened, it is fraud and you most likely won’t have to pay it back. Report it to the police and your bank.
  •  Speaking to the bank – The nature of joint accounts means one partner can have access without the others permission. If they then withdraw all the money, they are allowed to. If you’re worried about this, ask your bank to change the signatory rules so both signatures are needed to release money. This may stop you having access to a debit card and access to online banking though.

Speaking to This Morning Presenters, Martin stressed the importance of the financially abused getting help, adding that most banks now have staff who are trained to deal with “vulnerable customers.”

He said: “If you are being financially abused, it is best to communicate to financial firms that you are in a vulnerable position. Most now have vulnerable customer teams that can help.”

For full help, read Martin’s detailed blog on financial abuse, joint accounts and managing money within relationships.

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