If you are being subjected to economic abuse and you have accrued debt and arrears as a result, you might be facing a very bleak Christmas. In the current financial crisis, things are already tough for families, but when someone is economically coerced, or a victim of fraudulent deception, or has credit taken out in their name, or their savings stolen – it’s going to feel much worse.
Economic abuse is defined in legislation as a type of domestic abuse, which is a crime. It is one element of coercive control that creates financial dependency and blocks avenues of escape. It involves controlling or restricting access to money and basic needs, sabotaging employment or study, preventing access to benefits, taking or selling belongings, not repaying loans, or making you believe that household bills are being paid when they are not. And this list is by no means exhaustive. Some economic abuse is a criminal offence, such as taking out credit cards in your name without your knowledge or consent, but many victims are forced to borrow or hand over funds, so there is no legal recourse for them.
If someone cannot access money or credit, has nowhere to go to if they leave, has a damaged credit rating, or substantial debt, we begin to see why it’s so difficult to leave the relationship. Throw in children, pets, fear and exhaustion, and it becomes almost impossible. The other problem related to economic abuse is the impact on securing any form of housing. A good credit score or a willing guarantor is a necessity for many landlords. Even social landlords don’t look favourably on rent arrears or a history of eviction. For those with unsafe immigration status, no access to public funds, or no right to work the situation is yet more dire. Staying with an abuser might feel like the only option.
Although guidance has been introduced to help public sector and other creditors identify and respond sensitively to victims of economic abuse, these measures do not deal with the central issue of reinstating access to credit and erasing debt. But it’s a start, and institutions are more receptive than they used to be.
There are avenues of help out there. Many domestic abuse services will provide support and advice to victims of economic abuse.
The charity Surviving Economic Abuse https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/ can give advice and really helpful information for both victims and the professionals who work with them. They will also point you to safe and appropriate debt advice services.
If you are in need of protection through the courts but are not eligible for Legal Aid funding, NCDV https://www.ncdv.org.uk/ may be able to help you obtain a civil protection order via their pro bono team.
Finally, remember that debt is a leading cause of emotional distress, depression and suicide. As scary as it feels to have spiralling debt, there is help and support out there. It can feel hard to reach out, but maybe getting the right help could be your gift to yourself this Christmas, so that next year feels just a little less scary.
National Training Manager, NCDV