Economic Abuse – The Hidden Type of Domestic Violence

If you or a family member is in immediate danger, please call 999. Further support can be found at or by phoning the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Economic abuse is a type of domestic wrongdoing that, until now, has not received a great deal of attention. But its effects are devastating. Economic abuse is defined as:

“behaviours that interfere with a woman’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic
resources” (Adams et al. 2008).

It is often used interchangeably with financial abuse; however, financial abuse refers to money, whereas economic abuse is broader, referring to the withholding or destroying of economic resources such as food, clothing, and the ability to earn a living. Up until now, it has not been considered a type of domestic violence, a term defined by the Home Office as:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional”.

However, thanks to intensive lobbying by the group Surviving Economic Abuse[1], economic abuse has been included in the new Domestic Abuse Bill[2].

What are the types of economic abuse?

Economic abusers, like all domestic violence, do not discriminate against age or socio-economic status. A recent article in the Guardian described the case of a woman whose ex-husband was a highly-paid professional. Elizabeth (not her real name), described how her ex-partner sent emails to letting agents impugning her ability to afford the rent, meaning she had to stump up six months in advance to keep hold of a tenancy. He also sent damning letters to estate agents, leading to her and her children being evicted twice.

He has also repeatedly maligned her character to her employers. She told the reporter:

“He’s spoken to a wide range of people to destroy my reputation. Which I can’t action, and I can’t repair. He continues to thwart my ability to rent or own a property, to work, to qualify [she’s retraining], so he’s completely stifling me economically. Four years after leaving him, I’m as controlled by him as I always was.”

The founder of the Surviving Economic Abuse charity, Dr, Nicola Sharp-Jeffs has said:

“Economic abuse is widespread and damaging but overlooked. Perpetrators of economic abuse and their crimes, but most importantly their victims, are hidden in plain sight. In the past decade, significant progress has been made to improve the legal protections for victims of all kinds of abuse yet using access to economic resources as part of abusive behaviour continues to go under the radar.

“Our research shows that victims of abuse are made to be economically dependent making it hard for them to access the resources they need to escape and rebuild their lives. Some women are left paying back debts that they were coerced into taking out, for many years after leaving. The recent and welcome controlling or coercive behaviour law was a watershed in acknowledging that domestic abuse does not have to leave a bruise to cause lasting harm. We look forward to working with the Government to explore ways in which the upcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill can recognise economic abuse in all its forms”.[3]

The Domestic Abuse Bill

British Prime Minister, Theresa May has made it clear she is committed to ending domestic abuse, in all its forms.

A consultation has been launched on the proposals of the Bill. The consultation will end on 31st May.

According to the consultation paper, the Bill will have the ultimate aim of “preventing domestic abuse by challenging the acceptability of abuse and addressing the underlying attitudes and norms that perpetuate it”.

This consultation asks questions under four main themes with the central aim of prevention running through each:

  • promote awareness – to put domestic abuse at the top of everyone’s agenda, and raise public and professionals’ awareness
  • protect and support – to enhance the safety of victims and the support that they receive
  • pursue and deter – to provide an effective response to perpetrators from the initial agency response through to conviction and management of offenders, including rehabilitation
  • improve performance – to drive consistency and better performance in response to domestic abuse across all local areas, agencies and sectors

In addition to the Bill, the Prime Minister has said she has committed to delivering funding to refuges, so victims are not subject to a “postcode lottery”. In addition, support for victims will be provided much earlier, before they have to flee their homes.

In summary

In 2015, the government made it a criminal offence to subject someone to coercive control. Examples of the offence include:

  • isolating you from your friends and family
  • controlling how much money you have and how you spend it
  • monitoring your activities and your movements
  • repeatedly putting you down, calling you names, or telling you that you are worthless
  • threatening to harm or kill you or your child
  • threatening to publish information about you or to report you to the police or the authorities
  • damaging your property or household goods
  • forcing you to take part in criminal activity or child abuse

Making economic abuse a criminal offence will add to the ever-strengthening domestic violence law in the UK, making the crime more unacceptable throughout society as a whole. Because economic abuse could happen to any of us. You just may have not met the wrong person yet.

Rosie Bracher is specialist family law solicitors based in Barnstaple. We have the knowledge and expertise to advise you on all matters involving children and family law. Please contact our office on 01271 314 904 and arrange to speak to one of our team.