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Financial abuse going “under the radar”

1 June 2015

Just 2 in 5 UK adults are aware that domestic abuse can include a financial element, finds new research from Citizens Advice.

Restrictions on day-to-day spending or being forced to take on debts are amongst the problems victims of domestic abuse can face which can trap them in damaging relationships, evidence from the national charity has previously shown.

Last year the Government made the welcome announcement that it would address non-physical abuse and make ‘coercive control’ illegal.  

New evidence published by Citizens Advice today shows important strides need to be made in making people aware of financial abuse.

The findings are from a survey of over 2,000 people, carried out for Citizens Advice by ComRes.  It also reveals many people are not aware that domestic abuse extends beyond physical violence:

  • 4 in 10 people (39 per cent) are not aware making a partner account for all their spending  can constitute domestic abuse;

  • More than half (55 per cent) do not recognise taking out a loan in a victim’s name without them knowing as a form of abuse;

The Citizens Advice report Controlling money, controlling lives last year revealed that victims of financial abuse had access to their bank accounts restricted, were  stolen from and had their property destroyed. Some victims sought help after being left with huge debts when they were forced to take out loans for their abuser. The financial abuse was in some cases accompanied by intimidation, physical violence and even repeated death threats.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“No domestic abuse should go under the radar. Perpetrators of abuse use financial control and psychological cruelty to make their victims feel powerless. Victims can find themselves subjected to a barrage of put-downs to undermine their confidence or forced to account for every penny spent so that they are isolated.

“The last Government led the way on domestic abuse when it announced it would make coercive control illegal. To ensure this makes the needed difference it is important people feel equipped to recognise domestic abuse. Getting more people to be aware of the reality of domestic abuse and the different forms experienced by victims is crucial. Guidelines to help police and the courts prosecute perpetrators of coercive control under the new law will be an important part of this.”

To ensure the Government’s announced law is able to deliver strong protections for domestic abuse victims Citizens Advice is working with specialists to provide tools to tackle financial abuse. The national charity is also developing guidance that will better equip everyone, from friends and family through to professionals, to better identify all forms of abuse and take the right steps to help victims get the support they need.

Some victims of domestic abuse do not recognise that their experiences constitute domestic abuse. A survey of Citizens Advice advisers who help victims revealed in that in these cases the abuse the victim has experienced includes financial abuse 77 per cent of the time.

Seeking help

If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, or you are concerned someone you know might be in an abusive relationship, you can seek help by calling confidential freephone helplines:

  • If the victim is a woman, you get help from the confidential National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline on 0808 2000 247

  • If the victim is a man, you can get help from the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327

  • If the victim is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, you can get specialised help from Broken Rainbow on 0300 999 5428

You can also come in to seek help around domestic abuse from your local Citizens Advice Bureau and online at

Domestic violence and abuse

The official definition of domestic abuse from the Home Office is: “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  1. Psychological

  2. Physical

  3. Sexual

  4. Financial

  5. Emotional.”

Controlling behaviour is defined as: “a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.”

Coercive behaviour is defined as: “an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”

Notes to editors

  1. ComRes interviewed 2,063 British adults online between the 8th and 10th May 2015 and 2,014 British adults online between the 15th and 17th May 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of British adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Data tables are available at

  2. 39 per cent of surveyed GB adults were aware that financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse.

  3. Citizens Advice surveyed 302 of its advisers for the report Struggling for support?: Victims of domestic abuse, and asked advisers if they had helped someone was not aware their experiences constituted domestic abuse, and if they had, the form this abuse took.

  4. The Home Office definitions of domestic violence and abuse are not legal definitions.

  5. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.

  6. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

  7. To get advice online or find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit

  8. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers

  9. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.6 million problems from April 2012 to March 2013. For full 2012/2013 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends