Coercion, control and credit: tackling financial abuse

Working with people in debt, Intrum helps consumers with range of vulnerabilities – from mental and physical health issues, to bereavement and job loss. Economic abuse is an area in which understanding is developing.

What is economic abuse?

Controlling how someone acquires, uses and maintains money and economic resources such as food, accommodation and clothing is known as economic abuse. Forcing or coercing someone into debt is a common form of this abuse.

Economic abuse often occurs in the context of intimate partner violence, and can affect anyone: young, old, male or female. Not all abuse involves physical violence – abusers use all kinds of ‘coercive control’ to dictate their partner’s choices and control their everyday actions, implementing negative consequences if their demands are refused.

An abusive partner may exert control over income, spending, bills, bank accounts and borrowing (financial abuse). The wider definition of economic abuse includes controlling access to and use of things such as transport and technology, property, and daily essentials such as food and clothing.

This can continue long after someone has left a relationship and often has lifelong effects.

Spotting financial and economic abuse

In practice, financial abuse can include:

  • Making someone take out a credit card or loan, or buy on credit against their wishes
  • Taking out a mortgage, credit card or loan in their name
  • Using their credit card or other sources of credit such as an internet account or phone
  • Putting bills in their name
  • Forcing them into a position where they have to take out credit to live – for example by stealing from them, taking their wages or making them buy things.
At SEA we speak to victim-survivors of economic abuse who have been forced to take out loans, mortgages, credit cards and other credit agreements by an abuser and are then left with the consequences of that debt as they try to rebuild their lives and achieve economic safety.
Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE is CEO and Founder of UK charity Surviving Economic Abuse

Often survivors don’t know about debts until it is too late, when defaults have been recorded or the debts passed to recovery.

Some of the things Intrum customers have shared:

  • “My husband made me take out this credit card. He racked up the bill and he expects me to pay for it.”
  • “My wife has taken multiple accounts out in my name and has been hiding the letters in her car. I’ve just found it all and I don’t know what to do.”
  • “I just want to end it all. I can’t even afford to see my friends, he won’t let me and he takes my debit card away.”

The impact of economic abuse makes rebuilding lives challenging. Many leave relationships with nothing, not even money for essentials. Large amounts of debt and a poor credit rating affects their long-term stability and economic security.

Taking action to help

In some countries, economic abuse is now legally recognised as a form of abuse, paving the way for increased support for those affected. The issue is one of increasing debate, with French lawmakers keen to make economic abuse a crime and the UK recognising and defining this type of abuse in the 2021 Domestic Abuse Act.

Intrum UK is undertaking a project to embed understanding of financial and economic abuse, further enhancing the way it works with people in debt. Teams are being trained to recognise the signs of financial abuse and help victim-survivors.

We already have a process up and running – for example we have seen customers who have debts run up in their name by an ex-partner and have written off some debt. However, we can only help with the debts we are assigned to collect so we are referring those affected to an independent organisation that can look at everything and find a way forward.
David Price, Intrum UK Compliance Director