Call us: Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm, Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm
Call local rate 0330 056 3171
Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm | Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm
Call local rate 0330 056 3171
Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm | Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm

What is economic abuse?

You do not need to wealthy to experience economic and financial abuse. It can exist in any relationship and affect people from all walks of life. It’s less about the money or assets themselves, and more about using them to gain and maintain control over someone. Liza Gatrell, Partner at Stowe, explains more. 

Thankfully, recognition of economic abuse is gaining momentum. This type of abuse was not even acknowledged by the law until recently. This was finally addressed by the Domestic Abuse Act of 2021, and safeguards were put in place for victims and survivors.

Within the Act, the definition of domestic abuse was broadened to include economic abuse, in the hope that it will provide victim-survivors with easier access to support that meets their needs and circumstances, and ensure that professionals have the tools to help.

The legal, financial, and other sectors, however, still have a way to go. Moving forward, it is crucial for all professions to be aware of the indicators of economic abuse and to be able to direct survivors to the right resources.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse is the use of finances and resources to exert control over a victim. It is designed to create financial insecurity and restrict independence making victims economically dependent on their abusive partner.

It is a legally recognised form of domestic abuse and is defined as:

“Any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on another person’s ability to—

(a) acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or

(b) obtain goods or services.”

Economic abuse is the use of finances and resources to exert control over a victim, now and in the future. 

It is estimated that one in six women, and one in seven men, have suffered some form of financial abuse by a current or former partner.*

This abuse is often subtle and difficult to identify, meaning it can go unnoticed for some time. It frequently occurs in conjunction with other types of abuse, such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. In fact, it is estimated that 95% of reported domestic abuse involves economic abuse*. 

As it separates people from sources of support and takes advantage of their resources or capacities, depriving them of independence, resistance, and escape options, it fits into a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.

The signs of economic abuse? 

Economic abuse can take many forms, but often involves the perpetrator controlling or restricting a person’s ability to acquire and maintain money or other resources.

In many cases, the perpetrator will have sole access to the family’s finances, capital and income, and then restrict the victim-survivor’s access to money, credit facilities, goods, services, food, clothing and warmth in the home. 

They can hinder the survivors’ ability to earn money and income by deliberately keeping them out of education or work, or by reducing their work hours. For those that work, a perpetrator may take their pay off them.

It is also a common tactic for them to exploit a victim’s economic situation: stealing money or goods, refusing to contribute to bills, building up debt – often without the victim’s knowledge – through loans and credit cards, clearing out joint bank accounts and running up overdrafts. 

This has a significant impact on the survivors’ lives, trapping, frightening, and isolating them, with long-term effects on their mental and financial well being.

Examples of economic abuse include:

  • Sabotaging your income
  • Excluding you from financial decisions
  • Controlling or denying your access to money
  • Blocking financial resources, benefits, and information
  • Dictating, tracking, or making you justify all expenditure
  • Refusing to contribute to household expenses
  • Deliberately making you ask for money
  • Preventing access to necessities, like food, clothing, or medications
  • Removing any money you have or make
  • Insisting accounts and property are in their name only
  • Coercing you into debt or building debt in your name without your knowledge.

Leaving an abusive relationship 

For some survivors, control can persist after the relationship ends and the abuse continues. This is known as post separation abuse.

Understanding this is crucial for family lawyers, since it directly affects how the divorce case is handled and whether additional protection would be beneficial. 

In cases of economic abuse, when separated couples deal with their finances, the perpetrator can use this opportunity to continue the abuse by sabotaging the legal process and limiting access to marital assets as a means of control.  

The perpetrator might make the divorce process very challenging. For instance they may fail to disclose marital assets, actively delay the process to gain control, causing fear and stress and intentionally driving up legal costs.

In high net worth cases, they can take advantage of complex asset structures and start to relocate, sell or conceal their assets, or move money internationally.  They may have businesses and properties undervalued, along with expensive gifts such as watches and jewellery. 

They may change their personal circumstances, such as resigning from their top-earning job or retiring early to manipulate their wealth and cause financial hardship. 

Victims can find they have no access to funds, bank accounts or borrowing capability. Maintenance payments are frequently forgotten or neglected.

The intention is to deprive the victim of any source of money so that they will be more likely to revert back to the abuser given their limited freedom and lack of other options.

However, it is important for victims to understand that there is support for them. Family lawyers have various tools they can use, including orders that require the abusive partner to leave the family home, interim maintenance orders to help meet needs while the case progresses, and freezing orders to prevent the disposal or sale of assets. 

Helping victim-survivors of economic abuse 

The Domestic Abuse Act made some progress, but there is still work to be done to increase awareness of economic abuse.

All professionals, especially those in the financial and legal sectors, require specialised training in order to recognise the warning signals, provide victims with the best advice possible, and direct them to the right resources.

Victim-survivors need greater access to help and support in reestablishing their life. For example, support with budgeting, bank accounts, understanding financial records, mortgages, credit ratings, etc., so they can regain control of their finances and move forward towards an independent future. 

Useful links

Surviving Economic Abuse – the only UK charity dedicated to raising awareness of economic abuse and transforming responses to it. 

You can contact the Financial Support Line for Victims of Domestic Abuse on 0808 1968845 (Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm).

Stowe talks: Surviving Economic Abuse with campaigner for survivors of economic and domestic abuse, Rosie Lyon.

Stowe Guide: What is economic abuse?


* Statistics from research by the charity Surviving Economic Abuse.

Liza is based in our Winchester & Southampton offices and is experienced in divorce, financial matters, and legal issues issues involving children.

Contact us

As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.

Leave a comment

Help & advice categories


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for advice on divorce and relationships from our lawyers, divorce coaches and relationship experts.

What type of information are you looking for?

Privacy Policy