Unequal trapped and controlled:

Women’s experiences of financial abuse and the potential implications for Universal Credit

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Unequal, trapped and controlled: women’s experiences of financial abuse and the potential implications for Universal Credit

Women’s Aid and the TUC wanted to find out more about women’s experiences of financial abuse and the potential implications for Universal Credit.

We conducted focus groups and an online survey with women survivors of domestic violence to find out more about their experiences and the impact that financial abuse had on their lives. We are grateful for the support of the TUC on this research project.

Key findings

  • Financial abuse includes control over money, exploitation of the survivor’s assets and sabotage of survivor’s efforts to work, study or interact with others.
  • Some survivors had no money or were given an allowance by the abusers.
  • Many had little or no access to money even in a joint account.
  • 67% of survivors in paid work at the time of the abuse agreed that their partner had monitored their work activities.
  • Higher–income or ‘professional’ women can also experience financial abuse but may not be believed if people think domestic abuse is only linked to poverty.
  • Disabled women are particularly at risk of abuse from partners, other family members or carers because of their impairments and additional benefit entitlement that they may have.
  • Impacts of financial abuse included going without (71% of survey respondents went without essentials, 41% had to use the children’s birthday money or savings to buy essentials); 61% were in debt and 37% had a bad credit rating; 77% said their mental health had been affected.
  • In interviews and focus groups, emotional or financial abuse came before other types of abuse (survey responses were less conclusive); but this does suggest that if we could identify and support survivors encountering these types of abuse earlier we might be able to prevent abuse escalating.
  • Financial abuse is a barrier to leaving the abuser – some women had no money of their own. 52% of women survey respondents still living with their abuser said they could not afford to leave.
  • Financial abuse continues after separation, often concerning difficulties getting child maintenance arrangements in place; legal disputes including court summonses; and disentangling joint assets
  • Of survey respondents, 36% had asked no-one for help with the financial abuse. 35% had told family and 26% told friends. 25% had asked a domestic violence service.
  • Some abusers take women’s wages or benefits or get their benefits put in the abuser’s name. Abusers got benefits meant for the family, children or survivor – including Child Benefit. There were particular problems for non-UK nationals claiming benefit.
  • The government has said that, in cases of financial abuse, they can consider splitting Universal Credit between partners. But almost 85% of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that split payments would make the abuse worse when their partner found out.


  1. Survivors and agencies identifying and responding to abuse
    • Statutory agencies such as local authorities to be trained in coercive control and routinely carry out safe inquiry with women and appropriate signposting to specialist services
  2. Banks dealing with abuse more effectively
    • Flag accounts where abuse is known, training and policy, work in partnership with specialist domestic violence services to develop specialist expertise in handling situations of coercive control
  3. Changes to the delivery of Universal Credit to reduce the risk of further opportunities for financial abuse
    • Survivors recommended that Universal Credit housing elements should be paid direct to the landlord or lender to ensure they had a roof over their heads. 60% also agreed that Universal Credit claims from families should be paid to the mother
  4. Benefits and child maintenance systems supporting survivors
    • Waive restrictions on benefit rules restricting entitlement to EEA nationals and returning British nationals for claims made by survivors fleeing domestic violence
    • Ensure women and children have safe child maintenance arrangements in place by fast-tracking domestic violence survivors to the Child Maintenance Collection system (without having to meet other requirements[1]) and dropping all charges for use
  5. Further data collection to identify more detail about this form of abuse, so that interventions can take place sooner and more effectively.

Published by
Trades Union Congress
Congress House
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3LS
March 2015
ISBN: 978 1 85006 966 9

© 2022 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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