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Economic abuse: Government bill and code of practice will help support victims

Ten years ago as a newly arrived member of the BSA team I wrote my first BSA article for public consumption. The subject was financial abuse.

Sadly, I did still expect to be writing about financial abuse ten years later – or “Economic abuse” to use its new name. However, writing in 2019, it is pleasing to report some significant progress in tackling abuse and supporting abuse victims with the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 launch of the Financial Abuse Code of Practice.

What is economic abuse?

Financial abuse is defined as “stealing from, defrauding or coercing someone to part with money, goods or property” usually by a person the victim knows and trusts. Examples range from enforced withdrawals of cash to re-assigning ownership of a house.

Economic abuse is a wider term introduced in the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 as part of the statutory definition of domestic abuse. Economic abuse includes denial of access to economic resources forcing the victim to become dependent on the abuser as well as financial abuse.

Who is most at risk?

Abuse of this type can happen to anyone but most commonly within the context of domestic violence, care arrangements and elder abuse. It often happens alongside physical abuse, neglect or emotional blackmail.

One in five women and one in seven men in the UK have experienced financial abuse from either a current or former partner. More than a third of victims don’t tell anyone at the time. 

Older people are also high risk for financial abuse - those with dementia or reduced cognitive function being the most vulnerable. Women are twice as likely as men to be victims of financial abuse in later life, in particular women aged 80-89 living on their own.

Helping victims regain control

Building societies – and wider financial service providers - play a key role in supporting victims of financial abuse, by helping them regain control of their finances as part of breaking away from their abuser.

But, dealing with financial abuse isn’t easy - it requires the ability to recognise the signs of abuse, empathy to encourage the victim to disclose their situation and knowledge of the options available to provide support appropriate to that individual.

The Financial Abuse Code of Practice has been launched as a framework to help participants build up this level of knowledge and training so that building societies and banks can provide consistent support to abuse victims. This month sees the launch of consumer information to support the Code.

Third-party-support-(1).pngThe Domestic Abuse Bill isn’t specific to financial services but should result in more economic abuse being picked earlier by both public and private sectors and more effective victim-support. Success will mean more building society customers seeking help to regain financial control.

Of course, the vast majority of people who support another person in running their finances are not abusers but they sometimes need protection too from suspicions of abuse.

The BSA has published guidance – “Need support with your finances from a friend or family member” – which outlines how legitimate support arrangements for building society account holders can be set up.

Looking ahead a further ten years, economic abuse won’t have gone away. But, hopefully, these improvements in support for abuse victims will have made a real difference.


Posted by James O'Sullivan on 06 February 2019