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Financial abuse: what is it and what are the signs?

Financial abuse, a recognised form of domestic abuse, is a way of exerting power over individuals by controlling their spending, access to cash, assets, and overall finances. 

Part of the economic abuse umbrella, this subtle yet impactful manipulation can leave victims feeling isolated, lacking in confidence, and entrapped in a cycle of financial dependency. 

In this article we’ll cover: 

  • What the signs of financial abuse are 
  • Is financial abuse a crime? 
  • How is financial abuse different to economic abuse? 

What is financial abuse? 

Financial abuse is a recognised form of domestic abuse whereby one person exerts power by controlling another’s money and finances. 

Misusing someone else’s money or financial assets for personal gain can cause harm, deprivation, or disadvantage for the victim. 

The Care Act 2014 states that financial abuse includes: 

  • Having money or other property stolen 
  • Being defrauded 
  • Being put under pressure in relation to money or other property, and 
  • Having money or other property misused. 

Spotting the signs of financial abuse 

Recognising that someone is using finances to control you can be challenging, and it may take time to spot the signs. 

However, if you feel uncomfortable about the way someone is handling your finances, here are some indicators of financial abuse to look out for.

  • Coerced withdrawals or credit applications in your name 
  • Forced to surrender control of your accounts, including changing login details 
  • Unauthorised cashing of pensions or cheques 
  • Adding their name to your account without consent 
  • Forcing changes to your will that favour them 
  • Misusing household funds for personal expenses 
  • Monitoring spending, demanding evidence 
  • Restricting access to banking, loans, or cards 
  • Dictating your spending choices 
  • Unauthorised Direct Debits setup 
  • Mandatory deposits into inaccessible accounts 
  • Persuading changes to pensions or payments 
  • Unexplained transactions or activity in bank accounts 
  • Forcing new insurance policies or missed payments.  

 A combination of these signs suggests potential abuse, but it’s not exclusive to these indicators. 

 Other important things to note:  

  • Realising you’re a victim and confirming abuse may take time 
  • It is frequently linked with other forms of abuse 
  • It’s not limited to theft, fraud or extortion
  • It can be subtle or covert 
  • Everyone will experience it differently
  • Affects adults of any age 
  • Can occur outside of romantic relationships 
  • Abusers may be parents, partners, ex-partners, family members, or caregivers.

Financial abuse in marriage 

This occurs when someone controls, restricts, or exploits their spouse or partner’s financial resources or undermines their financial independence. 

It may involve withholding money, coercive financial decisions, or preventing access to financial information, creating an imbalance of power and jeopardising the victim’s financial freedom.  

Elder financial abuse 

This form of abuse involves the unauthorised or improper use of an elderly person’s funds, assets, or property by a caregiver, family member, or external party. It includes scams, theft, or manipulation, exploiting the vulnerability of older individuals to weaken their financial security. 

Narcissist financial abuse

Narcissistic individuals can manipulate and exploit another person for financial gain. Connected to their desire for dominance, money is a tool for inflating the narcissist’s ego and destroying their victim’s financial wellbeing.  

Is financial abuse a crime? 

Domestic abuse is a crime in England and Wales and can take many forms, including physical, sexual, psychological/emotional, and financial.  

As well as being a form of domestic abuse, financial abuse can include additional criminal activity including theft, fraud and extortion.  

How is financial abuse different to economic abuse? 

Financial abuse is often linked to a larger category of abuse known as economic abuse.  

Economic abuse goes beyond financial control and can include preventing you from attending work, college, or university, preventing you from receiving benefits by limiting appointments or job applications, and restricting your access to essential resources such as food, clothing, or transportation.  

You can find more information about economic abuse here.  

I think I’m being financially abused, what should I do? 

It’s your right to make their own financial decisions. If your partner, family member, caregiver, or anybody else has authority over your finances, this is considered financial abuse. 

If you think you may be experiencing financial or economic abuse, we urge you to contact an organisation that can offer support.  

Surviving Economic AbuseYou can contact the Financial Support Line for Victims of Domestic Abuse on 0808 1968845 (9am–5pm Monday to Friday). 

Related links 

What is economic abuse?

What is tech abuse?

Stowe talks: Recognising and dealing with economic abuse

Stowe talks – Surviving economic abuse

Economic abuse in financial remedy proceedings

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The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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