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Supporting economic abuse victims towards financial freedom

BSA Policy Manager, James O'Sullivan, reports on several steps forward on the journey to support victims of economic abuse.

James O'Sullivan, BSAWay back in 2008 in my first ever blog for the BSA I wrote about the challenges of building societies supporting victim-survivors of economic abuse. 16 years later, I’m delighted to report on several steps forward – in particular the new report “From Control to Financial Freedom”. 

The challenge of economic abuse

Economic abuse is the restriction, exploitation and or sabotage of the victim’s finances by a perpetrator personally connected to the victim for their personal gain and / or to maintain power and control over the victim.  Often this is alongside wider domestic abuse where the victim is also subject to physical or sexual abuse, neglect, and / or controlling or coercive behaviour. Victims of abuse are highly vulnerable individuals and the impact on their lives can be devastating.

Research by Surviving Economic Abuse found that found that in the past 12 months over 5 million women have experienced economic abuse. Of these, 2.5 million had restricted access to their bank accounts, and 2.1 million had credit taken out in their name or had their credit rating deliberately destroyed.

Economic abuse can be hard to diagnose – often victims don’t recognise that they are being abused and / or family loyalty makes them reluctant to “grass” on their abusers. Financial services firm who may well provide services to both the victim and the perpetrator have to be particularly careful that they support victims without taking sides. 

Breaking the abuser’s control

The Financial Abuse Code, launched in 2018 and refreshed in 2021, provides guidance to financial services firms on supporting victim-survivors with first steps to regaining control of their finances - via measures such as opening new accounts with non-standard documentation, applying non-geographic sort codes to safeguard the victim’s location, flexibility on change of address processes, issuing new payment cards / passbooks and resetting the customer’s digital access. Economic abuse also became a recognised criminal offence via the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. 

Moving to full financial independence

“From control to financial freedom” is the start of the next step. This report published by UK Finance with the assistance of the charity Surviving Economic Abuse and experts from the financial and legal sector (the BSA included) looks at the more complex issues inhibiting victim-survivors of economic abuse from gaining full, stable financial independence. 

It highlights three issues which can cause the victim-survivor ongoing harm even when the perpetrator’s direct control of their finances has been dismantled:

  • Debt accrued as a result of victim-survivors being coerced into taking out loans

  • Separation of joint financial services products – particularly mortgages and other loans

  • Perpetrators using payment references to send abusive messages to their victims.

None of these issues have an instant solution and further work is needed to come up with solutions which are victim-survivor-supportive but balance the needs of all parties involved – some of these solutions will require action by government and other stakeholders outside of financial services. 
More importantly, this represents a strong commitment to translating policy recommendations into real solutions to give back sustained financial independence to victim-survivors of economic abuse.   

Read the report From control to financial freedom
 

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