How to spot the warning signs of financial abuse - and the help available to sort it

15th Feb 19 | Lifestyle

Financial abuse can leave people feeling trapped, but support is available.

Senior father and his young son in a cafe.

Imagine how it would feel if you couldn’t access your money, or get a job without someone else’s permission – or if another person was racking up debts in your name.

Horrible, right? But financial abuse may be more common than you think, and financial services firms are highlighting the help available for those affected, to start taking back control over their money.

Trade association UK Finance (ukfinance.org.uk) has just published a leaflet with information on this very topic, which services provider firms are placing on their websites.

Hands holding british pound coin and small money pouch
Controlling someone else’s money can be a form of abuse (Thinkstock/PA)

This follows a financial abuse code of practice – providing guidance for banks and building societies so customers can be confident they will be treated sympathetically – that was announced late last year. The issue was also highlighted back in 2015, when the Co-operative Bank and domestic abuse charity Refuge launched a joint campaign.

The My Money, My Life campaign suggested 18% of adults in the UK had been a victim of financial abuse in a current or past relationship – and 30% of those surveyed knew somebody who’d experienced financial abuse in a relationship.

But while help is available, the issue often remains hidden. A third (34%) of people who have experienced financial abuse say they kept silent and told no one about it.

To help highlight the issue and encourage people to speak up, here are some of the warning signs of financial abuse to watch out for, plus ways to change the situation and get help…

What is financial abuse?
It could happen when someone tries to take control of your finances, exploit them or sabotage them. The person doing this may be a partner, a family member, or someone outside the family, such as a carer.

Who’s at risk?
While it can happen to anyone, for some people it could take place alongside other forms of abuse, where someone is trying to gain control over another person, such as violence. The Co-op Bank and Refuge’s research found 60% of cases were reported by women and in 82% of cases, victims had also experienced other forms of abuse. Older people may also be particularly at risk, and people with dementia may be targeted.

What are the warning signs?
Someone may have stopped you from being able to work or go to university, or prevented you from being able to access your own money. They may have taken out credit cards or loans in your name without your permission, or asked you to change your will.

You may have had your money spent by someone else without your authorisation. Perhaps someone said they would pay bills or buy shopping for you – but despite you giving them money, this hasn’t happened.

How your bank or other provider may be able to help
If you are in immediate danger, you should call the police. And if it’s safe to do so, ask to speak to someone at your financial services provider about what is happening. They can help you to keep your finances safe, which could involve setting up a new PIN and passwords on your account if you think someone else knows them.

If someone else is opening your post at home, you may be able to have some letters sent elsewhere, or consider receiving your statements online. Your provider may also help to remove someone else’s access to your account if you no longer want this – or they could give additional access to someone you trust, if you want their support with your finances.

If you have a joint account with an ex and you’re worried about cash being drained out, you could ask your provider that payments do not come out of the account without both you and the other joint account holder saying so. Or you may want to consider closing the joint account – but if it’s overdrawn, remember you’re both responsible for the overdrawn balance.

Other ways to start taking back financial control
Gathering your important documents together will help you move on and make it easier to keep control of your finances in the future. If it’s difficult to physically keep hold of paperwork, try to take copies or write down key information, such as your national insurance number, rental or mortgage details or any bills and loans in your name.

You may also want to obtain credit reference agency reports, which will give details about financial products in your name. Help and support is also available from charities such as Refuge, StepChange Debt Charity (stepchange.org), Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Trust.

© Press Association 2019

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