For Love Nor Money – How Economic Abuse Destroys Lives
You may be reading this because you work full-time but do not have access to any money. Or you have had to leave your job because your partner refuses to give you cash for transport. Perhaps your children need food or clothes and you have no means to provide them, despite your family being considered comfortably well-off.
For those suffering from economic abuse, the above situations constitute day-to-day reality. Until recently, financial abuse received little coverage, partly due to the shame felt. After all, how can you explain that in this day and age another person is controlling your life in such a way? Fortunately, economic abuse is becoming more recognised by Solicitors and government agencies, meaning help is now more accessible.
Last year, the Guardian ran an article covering economic abuse and its effects. It told the story of Elizabeth, who, along with her children, had been reduced to poverty because her ex-partner refused to pay maintenance, despite a court order.
“No heating, no gas. We’ve lived like paupers. “He doesn’t pay any maintenance even though legally he’s meant to, so sometimes I can’t pay my nursery bill. That means that even though I’ve left him, my job’s at risk – I can’t take a child into work.”
Elizabeth’s ex-partner has also contacted letting agents and her employer in an effort to malign her character.
It is important to note that Elizabeth’s ex-partner is a highly-paid professional. Like all forms of domestic abuse, sex, age, class, education, and income provide no protection; anyone can become a victim.
What is economic abuse?
The term economic abuse is often used interchangeably with financial abuse. However, the former covers a broader spectrum than money. Denying or restricting a person’s access to heat, food, clothes, transport, and/or ability to earn an income can be classed as economic abuse.
According to Women’s Aid, economic abuse seldom happens “in isolation”. It is normally associated with other forms of domestic abuse such as violence.
Is economic abuse a form of coercive control?
Economic abuse is considered a form of coercive control. In December 2015, section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship.
The offence of coercive control is committed if:
- The perpetrator repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person that is controlling or coercive; and
- At the time of the behaviour, the perpetrator and the victim are personally connected; and
- The behaviour has a serious effect on the victim; and
- The perpetrator knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on the victim.
Coercive control can include a range of behaviours including:
- Isolating you from friends and family
- Controlling your finances
- Subjecting you to humiliating and/or derogatory behaviour
- Threatening to harm your children or pets
- Damaging your property
- Repeatedly putting you down or telling you you’re worthless
The perpetrator’s behaviour will be deemed to have had a serious effect if on at least two occasions you have feared violence will be used against you, or you have been alarmed or distressed enough that it affects your day to day activities, and/or the behaviour has caused you to change the way you live.
What is the Domestic Abuse Bill?
British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised a strong stance on domestic abuse and a consultation on the Domestic Abuse Bill was undertaken in 2018.
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”.
The results are currently being considered.
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”.
Unfortunately, with Brexit dominating the government’s agenda, the progress of the Bill could well be delayed. If you are suffering from economic abuse now, it is imperative you seek legal advice from a Solicitor who can advise you of your options. Further support can be found at http://www.refuge.org.uk/ or by phoning the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 999.
Please note, this article does not constitute legal advice.
Hart Reade Solicitors are a full-service law firm with offices in Eastbourne, Hailsham, Polegate and Meads. We hold a Lexcel Accreditation from the Law Society of England and Wales. To make an appointment with one of our family law Solicitors, please phone our office on 01323 727 321.