Refuge calls on the Government to make access to cash a priority in Queen’s Speech

 

Legislation to ensure access to cash is made easier should be brought forward in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech says domestic abuse charity Refuge.

This call follows data released by Which?, the consumer watchdog, which revealed that a quarter of free-to-use ATMs have vanished since 2018 and almost half of the UK’s bank branches have closed since 2015. Which? and other campaigners outline that the move towards a cashless society that privileges online banking leaves many vulnerable people behind.

Refuge, the country’s largest single provider of specialist domestic abuse services, highlights just how vital access to cash is. They outline that the closure of ATM’s and bank branches is ‘putting lives at risk’ as it heightens perpetrators ability monitor and control a survivor’s access to and use of money. Being under this kind of financial surveillance severely impacts survivors’ ability to flee domestic abuse.

This kind of domestic abuse is widespread. Refuge’s ‘Know Economic Abuse’ report in 2020 found that 8.7 million people had experienced economic abuse, and 85% of people who experienced economic abuse also experienced other forms of domestic abuse including physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Refuge is backing calls on the Government made by Which? to finally deliver on its long overdue promise from 2020 to protect cash. Last week Which? outlined that another year of inaction after a pandemic that saw many small businesses cease to accept cash payments could risk an irreversible collapse of the country’s cash system.

Which? believes that proposals put forward by the banking industry such as shared banking hubs could play a role, but they must be targeted and of sufficient scale to plug the gaps left by bank closures. They outline that current measures are voluntary and are therefore subject to change based on commercial decisions made by individual firms. At present, there is nothing to prevent banks withdrawing from these measures at any point.

Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, said:

“The move towards a cashless society is putting lives at risk. Refuge knows just how vital being able to put aside small amounts of cash can be for survivors of domestic abuse, helping them flee an abusive partner.

“Economic abuse plays a huge part in a perpetrators ability to control and monitor their partner, so the move towards digital first banking and away from cash enables perpetrators to monitor the spending of their partners more closely. Worse still, time and again we have heard from many women that they don’t even have access to their own bank accounts, making cash even more vital.

“The Government must honour its commitments on access to cash and bring forward legislation that would make accessing cash easier for survivors. It could be the difference between women fleeing an abusive partner or forcing them to stay.”

Katie*, a survivor of domestic abuse supported by Refuge, said:

“My ex-husband wiped out my bank account constantly on lavish purchases for himself, meaning that there was nothing left in there for myself or my son, nor bills. Budgeting was impossible as whenever money was available, he would spend it, and when that was done, he ran up large debts in my name.

“Every so often when things got really bad with debts and bills, he would suddenly turn up with hundreds of pounds in bank notes to “save the day” which meant I was dependent on spending this cash for household essentials.

“A cash safety net was really important when I tried to flee, he would track my spending so I couldn’t take lots of cash out of a machine in one go as he’d notice and be able to track the location of the cash point. I had to save little pockets of cash gradually over time so it wasn’t detected and was easier to hide from him, this gave me confidence to know I was able to support myself and my son.

“As a survivor of economic abuse, the importance of cash was really noticeable after I left my abuser and was left with the long-term debt he’d racked up in my name. It took ten years to clear the tens of thousands of pounds of debt that I was left with. Debt plans were very intrusive as all my spending was monitored and every penny had to be accounted for.

“Cash was really important at that time as all my spending on my online statements had to be explained, I kept a cash fund of savings that allowed me to have some control and existed as a rainy day fund, it was awful that I had to sneak out my own money so that it was not traceable by debt collectors but it was essential especially as a mother.

“I never wanted my son to go without, so having cash for things like holidays or trips or even a new pair of shoes for him was really important. If I didn’t have that cash or wasn’t able to use it, I wouldn’t have been able to give my son that life in his early years nor have some confidence and independence over my own spending which had been controlled by my ex-husband and was now being controlled by debt collectors. It was a very traumatic time but having a safety net of cash was really important throughout that period.”

Ends

Notes to Editors
  1. *Katie is a pseudonym used to protect the survivor’s identity.
  2. Economic abuse is a common form of domestic abuse. It involves an abuser restricting a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain money or other economic resources. This could include refusing to let their partner open a bank account, controlling how they use their income, preventing them working or being in education or building up debt in their partner’s name. Power and control are central to all forms of domestic abuse, and economic abuse is no exception. Restricting a partner’s access to money, forcing them into debt, refusing to allow access to resources like a car or a mobile phone are all forms of control that reduces their partner’s ability to make their own choices and live autonomous lives. Economic abuse is commonly perpetrated alongside other forms of domestic abuse as part of a pattern of coercive control.
    85% of people who experienced economic abuse also experienced other forms of domestic abuse including physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
    Read Refuge’s Know Economic Abuse report here.
  3. About Refuge
    Refuge supports thousands of women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
    Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.
    Visit Refuge’s Tech Safety Website at www.RefugeTechSafety.org for information on tech abuse and to find guidance on how to secure your personal and home devices. For real time automated support Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.