My money, my life – economic abuse

In 2015 Refuge, in partnership with The Co-operative Bank, launched the powerful ‘My money, my life’ campaign to shine a spotlight on this often-overlooked form of domestic abuse and call for industry-wide agreement to support people who experience financial abuse in their relationships.

Key findings from this 2015 study include:

  • One in five people in the UK have experienced financial abuse in an intimate relationship
  • 60% of all cases are reported by women
  • 78% of women saying their abuse went on over five years compared to 23% of men
  • For women, financial abuse rarely happens in isolation – 86% experience other forms of abuse
  • A third of financial abuse victims suffer in silence, telling no-one*

“Know economic abuse”

Five years later, in 2020, we revisited the issue with the Co-operative Bank and launched a follow-up campaign, Know Economic Abuse. Read our latest report.

This new study also shed light on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the issue of economic abuse.

Key findings from this 2020 study include:

  • 16% of adults in the UK (8.7 million people) say that they have experienced economic abuse
  • 39% of UK adults have experienced behaviours which suggest they have experienced economic abuse, but they didn’t recognise it as such
  • 10% of those who have experienced abuse (nearly a million people) say that abuse is currently ongoing
  • 85% of people who experienced economic abuse also experienced other forms of domestic abuse
  • Following economic abuse, one in five survivors (21%) have debts which they feel unable to repay
  • For 3% of all UK adults (1.6 million people) the economic abuse started during the coronavirus pandemic
  • For more than one in three (35%) of those who first experienced economic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, their partner first became abusive when their pay decreased as a result of the lockdown
  • A third of survivors suffer in silence, telling no one about the economic abuse they are experiencing.
  • 57% of those who had experienced economic abuse said that they were in or had been in debt because of economic abuse.

The way people bank has also changed significantly in the last 5 years and this has had an impact on survivors of economic abuse. According to the Office for National Statistics, online banking has increased by a quarter. However, 24% of respondents said they thought online banking had made them more vulnerable, whereas 15% of people said that online banking has actually helped them escape from their abusive partner.

Campaign progress

On 10 October 2018, UK Finance launched a new Financial Abuse Code of Practice to better help economic abuse victims get the support they need from their financial service provider. We are proud that ‘My money, my life’ has highlighted the scale of economic abuse and contributed to the introduction of this new initiative.

Refuge and the Co-operative Bank have built on the Code of Practice to develop a five-point plan of action to further address the issue of economic abuse. These are:

  1. Banks and other financial services institutions to build on the support they offer to survivors of economic abuse by:
      • The creation of clear processes for customers who are in debt as a result of economic abuse to inform the bank of their circumstances, be supported by well-trained staff and have that debt burden reduced wherever possible.
      • The provision of information about economic abuse and where customers can seek help when customers apply for any joint financial product.
  2. Credit reference agencies to take a greater role, protecting survivors of economic abuse through the creation of a preferential ‘credit rating repair’ system. This would then be implemented by both banks and credit reference agencies.
  3. The creation of a cross-government fund for survivors to assist them with the costs of leaving a perpetrator and accessing a safe place to stay.
  4. Reform of welfare benefits systems to benefit survivors and current victims of economic abuse. This should include:
      • Automatic separate payments of Universal Credit
      • Universal Credit advances for those fleeing abusive partners, paid as grants rather than loans
  5. Banks, other financial services institutions, and specialist domestic abuse organisations to conduct a review of the impact of online and digital banking on survivors of economic abuse and produce recommendations for change.

Economic abuse is now recognised as a form of domestic abuse in legislation, with the Government’s passing of the landmark 2021 Domestic Abuse Act. This new definition will have a significant effect on raising awareness and understanding of this form of abuse.

Refuge’s experience supporting more than 6,000 survivors a day has shown that economic abuse is almost always perpetrated alongside other forms of abuse as part of a pattern of coercive control and can have devastating consequences.

Whilst there is much more to be done to prevent economic abuse and support survivors, the UK Finance Code of Practice, and the legal recognition of economic abuse as a form of domestic abuse are both huge steps forward in recognising both the immense scale of economic abuse in the UK and the vital role the banking sector can play in protecting victims.

What we did

research thumbnailNew national research

Refuge and The Co-operative Bank joined forces to carry out the UK’s largest study to date – led by academic Nicola Sharp-Jeffs at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University – to uncover the true scale of financial abuse in relationships.This was followed up in 2020 with the ‘Know Economic Abuse’ report that showed the scale of the issue five years on.

Support for women

Refuge produced a financial guide for women experiencing abuse, giving practical information on their rights and empowering them to make positive choices about their financial futures. The guide has been distributed throughout Refuge’s services and is online, so anybody can access it.

bills smallSector-wide change

Refuge continues to work with The Co-operative Bank to drive change across the banking sector, so that staff know how to support customers who may be experiencing financial abuse. We are proud of the creation of the Financial Abuse Code of Practice which launched in 2018 to better help economic abuse victims get the support they need from their financial service provider.

my money my life coverage thumnRaising awareness

‘My money, my life’ got extensive national coverage when it launched in December 2015 – including in major broadsheets and on BBC Breakfast – and continues to attract media attention. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Citizens Advice also gave supportive statements about the campaign.


Campaign video with Lauren Laverne

*All findings from ‘Money Matters’, written for The Co-operative Bank and Refuge by Nicola Sharp-Jeffs