When is controlling the purse strings financial abuse?

“You can tell who controls the purse strings in your house.” It’s a light-hearted comment often made to friends and colleagues about their finances that’s usually laughed off by the recipient. However, Citizens Advice fears that sometimes behind the smiles are partners or family members exerting so much financial control that it amounts to domestic abuse.

Financial abuse is one form of coercive behaviour that results in the victim’s ability to access, use and maintain economic resources being controlled by another. Examples include perpetrators pressurising the victim to take out credit, interfering with controlling benefits, income, savings, education and employment.

It can be indicative of other forms of domestic abuse, but even enacted in isolation it affects the victim’s wellbeing and safety, often impacting on other problems such as debt and welfare benefits.

There is little evidence about how widespread financial abuse is in the UK, but the results of a recent pilot project, ASK – in which CAB advisers routinely asked clients about domestic abuse while helping with other issues – revealed it may more prevalent than previously believed.

Citizens Advice has launched a national research project that aims to map understand clients’ experience of financial abuse; how advisers see and deal with this issue and what can be done to improve clients’ circumstances. It will be using existing CAB evidence as well as new data gathered from a survey sent out to all 338 bureaux – advisers from Lincoln and District CAB have already responded. This will look at the extent of abuse and what form it takes, its impact on clients and how it can be dealt with.

The resulting evidence will see Citizens Advice well placed to influence decision-making as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) turns its attention to the area of consumer vulnerability.

Addressing financial abuse is also relevant against the backdrop of the planned rollout of Universal Credit, especially the impact of the UC single household payment, and in dealing with the aftermath of the changes to legal aid.

If you think you are a victim of financial abuse, CAB advisers can help.