More than one in 10 (11%) of us have been a victim of financial abuse, according to research from Hargreaves Lansdown.
And when I say us, that includes me. You can be a financially aware, confident professional, and have your money and your life turned upside down by an abuser.
You might think that you don’t know anyone who has suffered. Only 8% of us think a friend may have been a victim, and just 6% think a family member has. However, given that one in 10 people have experienced this abuse at some stage in their life — which rises to one in seven of those aged 18-34, and one in six of those with children — there’s every chance that someone you know has been targeted in the past, or is suffering right now.
It’s not always an easy thing to spot. It’s not even straightforward within the relationship. Every couple has to compromise to a certain extent when it comes to money, so it’s easy to see the first signs as part of that process.
Your partner might question something you’ve bought, ask to see a supermarket receipt, or "accidentally" open a bank statement.
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However, over time, it tends to escalate. The key difference between normal financial give-and-take and abuse is that one person is in control, and making all the decisions. Often this leaves their partner far worse off.
Financial abuse can take a number of different forms. Some abusers will stop you from studying or working, making you utterly dependent on their income. Others, by contrast, will force you to work more hours or jobs than is reasonable, while they refuse to.
Some will insist you hand over your salary, or take control of your bank account. Others will make sure all the bills are in your name, and will refuse to spend any of their money on the essentials.
Abusers may insist you ask for an allowance for household expenses. They may control this to such an extent you have nothing to spend on yourself of your children, and in some cases they won’t give you enough for the absolute essentials, so you have to go without.
A survey by Women’s Aid found that two-thirds of abusers were using rising prices as a tool for coercive control.
In some cases, abusers will destroy your property, steal from you, or apply for credit in your name — leaving you with mounting debts on top of everything else.
You might think that in this position you would refuse, and stand your ground, but financial abuse may also come alongside other forms of emotional or physical abuse, which means the price to be paid for pushing back is simply too high.
Unfortunately, when life gets truly impossible, it can make leaving unspeakably hard, because you have no money to help you start again.
The cost of living crisis has compounded this — according to Women’s Aid, three-quarters of victims were either prevented from leaving because of rising costs, or found it much more difficult. It’s not just that victims may have no money, the cost of setting up on their own is also so much higher.
If you’re suffering financial abuse and can’t see a way out, there is help out there. If you are in danger, don’t hesitate — call 999.
Even if you plan to leave without police intervention, you can still call on their help later. They can take legal action to force your partner to leave your home, and not come within a certain distance. If you have been forced to flee without your belongings, they can accompany you home to fetch essential items.
If you have sufficient resources, it can be incredibly valuable to contact a solicitor. They will push to ensure your rights are upheld and can establish court orders to keep you safe.
If you can’t afford legal help, and you don’t qualify for legal aid, charities can help. If it’s safe to do so, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline. They will be able to explain the help on offer — from housing to financial or legal advice. There are no easy answers, but you don’t have to go through this on your own.
Meanwhile, it’s up to all of us to keep an eye out for our loved ones. The variety of types of abuse means there’s no single red flag.
However, consider whether someone’s spending behaviour has changed, beyond what you would expect as a result of rising prices. They may spend less when they’re with you, or refuse to come out if there’s a cost attached. They may be worried about spending, or need to borrow money.
You may also spot signs that they aren’t spending on the essentials, including things like winter clothes or food. Or there might be subtle signs in their language — such as needing to get permission to spend, or not being allowed to. All of this is particularly worrying if their partner is still spending as usual.
If there’s no reason you know of for these changes, the best approach is just to ask. Talk to them, and ask if they’re OK. Let them know that you are there for support without judgment, and that you will do whatever you can to help. They may be resistant, and it may take more than one attempt, but if they do open up, the difference could be life-changing.
Senior direct services support worker at Women's Aid Kathryn Mann said: “Financial abuse is a way for perpetrators to exert power and control over their partner. It can involve using credit cards without permission, putting contractual obligations in their partner’s name, asking you to prove what you’ve spent money on, and gambling with family assets.
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“Financial abuse can be extremely isolating, and leave women with no money for basic essentials such as food and clothing. This can act as a barrier to leaving, as women feel that they have no choice but to stay with their abuser.
“This is even more prevalent in the current economic climate; in a recent survey, almost three quarters of domestic abuse survivors told Women’s Aid that the cost of living crisis was preventing them from leaving, or making it harder for them to flee.
“If you are experiencing financial abuse, Women’s Aid is here for you. We know talking about abuse can be hard, but getting in touch with us can be a really important first step. You can contact us on our Live Chat or email helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information and support, go to www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/. You can find further specific information around financial abuse from Surviving Economic Abuse: https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/.”