Recommendations to help economic abuse survivors regain financial independence | Personal Finance | Finance

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A report from UK Financee has outlined recommendations to support economic abuse survivors (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

UK Finance has unveiled a report detailing key recommendations to aid survivors of economic abuse in reclaiming their financial freedom.

Economic abuse, which involves an abuser limiting, exploiting, or undermining a victim’s resources like mobile phones and transport to exert dominance, can encompass financial abusewhere the abuser manipulates financial assets, such as controlling income or coercing the victim into debt.

Despite many firms adhering to a code against financial abuse and providing various support measures, UK Finance acknowledges that further action is necessary.

David Postings, UK Finance’s CEO, highlighted the gravity of the issue: “Surviving Economic Abuse’s (SEA) research found that in the past 12 months over five million women have experienced economic abuse.”

He revealed alarming statistics: “Of these, 2.5 million had restricted access to their bank accounts, and 2.1 million had credit taken out in their name or had their credit rating deliberately destroyed.”

Postings emphasised the need for continued efforts: “Positive progress has been made but complex, emerging issues that prevent victim-survivors from regaining their financial independence and achieving economic safety must now be addressed.”

He affirmed the sector’s dedication to the cause: “The financial services sector has a critical role, and we are committed to playing our part.”

The report outlines a series of recommendations including the proposal for customers to have the option of blocking payment references, as these can be used by abusers to send messages. Urging for a “tell us once” service, the report suggests this would enable abuse survivors to disclose their experiences to various organisations simultaneously.

The idea of a review regarding coerced debt on credit files is also put forward.

According to Surviving Economic Abuse’s research, survivors reportedly accrue debts averaging £27,000 across five creditors. As the responsibility for debts primarily lies with the survivor, the long-term impact on their individual credit report typically outlasts the relationship itself.

Furthermore, the report urges for clear and standardised information on how survivors can access professional legal aid, says UK Finance.

The need for a swift procedure for economic abuse prosecutions is highlighted. In cases where survivors are aspiring to become the sole borrower on a shared mortgage, the report also prompts mortgage lenders to evaluate their lending and consider agreed temporary adjustments.

Head of vulnerability, financial inclusion and capability at UK Finance, Fiona Turner stated: “We know that there can be complexities in helping victims regain control of their finances, and the recommendations in this report should help unravel some of these issues.”

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, the founder and chief executive of Surviving Economic Abuse, highlighted the insidious nature of financial control in abusive relationships, stating: “Financial ties like joint mortgages or child maintenance payments sent with abusive messages create an invisible chain to the abuser, preventing them from moving on and safely rebuilding their lives.”

She expressed optimism about collaborative efforts to combat economic abuse: “We look forward to working with UK Finance, the government, financial services firms and the regulator to implement the learnings in this report and, together, stopping economic abuse forever.”

Bim Afolami, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, acknowledged the progress made by the financial sector but recognised the need for further action: “As City minister, I am proud of the action taken to date by the sector to tackle this issue, demonstrated by the many positive initiatives being implemented to support victim-survivors in the prevention and aftermath of economic abuse.”

He also noted that despite advancements, challenges remain: “Although there is significant work taking place, this report shows we still have a way to go.”

Sheldon Mills, the Financial Conduct Authority’s executive director for consumers and competition, committed to ongoing collaboration to address economic abuse: “We will continue to work with industry, government and charities to raise awareness of this issue and to encourage the sharing of examples of good practice, so all firms learn from the experiences of others.”

The report also mentioned that several financial institutions, including NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank, HSBC UK, and Nationwide, are actively establishing “safe spaces” within their branches to aid survivors of domestic abuse.

TSB is stepping up its support for domestic abuse survivors by offering safe spaces and an emergency flee fund, which provides payments ranging from £50 to £500 based on individual circumstances.

Raghu Narula, NatWest Group’s managing director of customer engagement and distribution in retail banking, revealed the bank’s commitment to aiding vulnerable customers, with a generous donation of £2 million to the SafeLives Circle Fund and the establishment of safe spaces in over 360 branches this year.

He commented: “We’ll continue working with SafeLives and Surviving Economic Abuse to benefit from their expertise, so we can keep developing and enhancing our support for vulnerable customers.”

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