Financial Abuse: The Next Steps

Close-up of a person's hands holding an empty brown wallet symbolising the effects of financial abuse.

Financial abuse is a hidden form of domestic abuse. It can leave deep scars. Understanding and overcoming it is crucial. In this article, we’ll explore practical steps for surviving financial abuse. We’ll cover important topics. These include recognising abuse, seeking help, managing finances, and rebuilding your life.

Recognising Financial Abuse – Identifying the Red Flags:

Financial and economic abuse is a subtle yet destructive form of control. It’s not always easy to spot. But recognising it is key to breaking free. Here are some common signs:

Restricted Access to Money

Abusers often limit your access to funds. This can include forbidding you to work. Or they might give you an inadequate allowance. This control keeps you financially dependent.

Monitoring Spending

An abuser may scrutinise every penny you spend. They might demand receipts for all purchases. This level of surveillance is a form of control.

Sabotaging Work or Education

Some abusers interfere with your job. They might make you miss work. Or they could harm your chances of education. This stops you from becoming financially independent.

Stealing or Withholding Money

In some cases, abusers outright steal from you. Or they may refuse to add to shared expenses. This leaves you struggling financially.

Ruining Credit Scores

An abuser might take out loans in your name. Or they could fail to pay bills they’re responsible for. This damages your credit score. A poor credit score affects your future financial opportunities.

Forced Debt

Some victims are coerced into taking on debt. The abuser might force you to sign for loans. Or they could use your credit cards without permission.

Understanding these signs is crucial. It helps you recognise if you’re a victim of financial abuse. Knowing is the first step to seeking help and taking back control.

In the UK, the law around financial abuse and its associated penalties are primarily governed by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This act, applicable in England and Wales, has brought significant changes to how economic abuse is recognised and addressed within the legal framework.

Recognition of Financial Abuse in Law

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 includes financial abuse in its legal definition of domestic abuse. Financial abuse refers to behaviours that significantly impact an individual’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain financial resources, property, or vital goods and services. This inclusion marks a critical step in acknowledging the various forms of abuse beyond physical violence.

Controlling or Coercive Behaviour

While financial abuse itself is not a standalone criminal offense, it is often encompassed under the offense of controlling or coercive behaviour. This offence is criminalised under the Serious Crime Act 2015. Controlling or coercive behaviour becomes a criminal offense when it occurs repeatedly or continuously, causing the victim to fear violence or suffer serious alarm or distress that disrupts their daily life. The Domestic Abuse Act extends the scope of this offense to include post-separation abuse.

Penalties and Prosecution Of Financial Abuse

The penalties for controlling or coercive behaviour can be severe. If convicted, the perpetrator can face imprisonment, a fine, or both. The seriousness of the offense and the impact on the victim are key considerations in determining the sentence. Including financial abuse in these considerations reflects an understanding of the profound and lasting effects such abuse can have on victims.

Victims of financial abuse can access legal support to pursue justice. Legal aid is available for those who qualify, and various organisations provide assistance in navigating the legal system. The law also recognizes the challenges victims may face in accessing financial resources due to the abuse and provides avenues to address these challenges.

These legal provisions show the UK’s commitment to addressing and penalising all forms of domestic abuse, including the often overlooked aspect of financial abuse. The recognition and criminalisation of controlling or coercive behaviour, encompassing financial abuse, provide a legal basis for victims to seek protection and justice.

Navigating Options After Financial Abuse in the UK:

For individuals in the UK who are grappling with debt as a result of financial abuse, there are various avenues and protections to explore that can help in managing and potentially easing this financial strain.

Debt Relief Order (DRO)

This is an option for those with debts under £30,000, who have limited income and minimal assets. A DRO essentially pauses your debts for a year, and if your financial situation remains unchanged, these debts may be discharged after this period. You’ll need to work with an authorized debt advisor to apply for a DRO. The application fee is £90, payable in instalments, and some charities might assist with this fee. Please note that Debt Relief Orders (DROs) do not apply to all debt types – they exclude debts like child maintenance, student loans, and court fines.

Breathing Space Scheme

The UK government offers a ‘Breathing Space’ scheme, giving a 60-day pause on debt collection. This includes most types of debts like council tax, utility bills, and credit card debts. It’s designed to provide you time to get advice and make a plan. You must apply through a qualified debt advisor.

Addressing Coerced Debt

If you’re coerced into debt, UK law offers avenues to challenge this. Situations involving duress, undue influence, misrepresentation, or fraud might provide grounds for contesting the validity of these debts. However, this is a complex area and usually requires legal guidance.

In challenging coerced debt or considering legal action for controlling or coercive behavior, professional legal advice is vital. Bodies like The Law Society and Rights of Women can offer support and information on your legal options.

PARV (Person At Risk of Violence) Marker

If you’re at risk of violence, a PARV marker can be placed on your credit file. This is a protective measure to safeguard your personal information, making it more difficult for abusers to track or access your financial records.

It’s crucial to speak with a debt advisor who can guide you through these options and assist with applications. They can help you understand which path is most suited to your situation and provide support throughout the process.

Rebuilding Your Financial Independence After Economic Abuse:

After addressing immediate debt issues, the next step is rebuilding your financial independence. This process can be challenging, but with patience and the right strategies, it’s achievable. Here’s how you can start:

Creating a Budget

Begin by understanding your financial situation. Create a budget detailing your income and expenses. This helps in identifying areas where you can save money and prioritizes your spending.

Opening New Bank Accounts

If your financial accounts were controlled or monitored by your abuser, consider opening new accounts in your name only. Ensure these accounts are secure and inaccessible to your abuser.

Improving Your Credit Score Following Financial Abuse

Financial abuse often results in a damaged credit score. Start rebuilding it by making sure all bills are paid on time, reducing outstanding debts, and keeping credit utilisation low. You can also review your credit report for any inaccuracies or fraudulent activities.

Long-term Financial Planning

Once you stabilise your immediate financial situation, start thinking about long-term goals. This can include saving for retirement, building an emergency fund, or saving for major purchases.

Seeking Professional Financial Advice

Consider speaking with with a financial advisor. They can provide personalised advice tailored to your situation, helping with investment strategies, savings plans, and overall financial planning.

Emotional and Psychological Support Following Finance Abuse

Financial recovery is also an emotional journey. Don’t hesitate to seek support from counselling services or support groups. Healing from the psychological impact of financial abuse is just as important as financial recovery.

Rebuilding financial independence after experiencing financial abuse takes time and effort. It’s about making informed decisions, taking back control over your finances, and planning for a more secure and independent future.

Conclusion

The journey to overcome financial abuse marks a pivotal shift towards self empowerment. It starts with the crucial step of recognising the abuse, followed by seeking necessary support through avenues like legal guidance and financial counselling. Central to this process is gaining financial knowledge and skills. This path is not just about financial rebuilding but also involves emotional recovery, showing the importance of resilience and nurturing self-care. Ultimately, this journey is about forging a new path forward, defined by financial independence and reinforced personal strength.

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