There’s no doubt the pandemic has made many people more anxious about their finances – and for those suffering economic abuse, their problems may have worsened.
Economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse, and involves someone controlling a person’s ability to use their own money (financial abuse) as well as their access to essential resources.
The charity Refuge recently said demand for its National Domestic Abuse Helpline has spiked, and ITV’s Coronation Street has also been highlighting the issue, through their abuse storyline with Geoff and Yasmeen. Part of Geoff’s abusive behaviour has involved him controlling Yasmeen’s finances and taking her payment cards.
Banks play a role in tackling economic abuse, alongside other organisations such as charities, support services and the police. NatWest recently unveiled a £1 million fund to support survivors of economic and domestic abuse, in partnership with UK-wide domestic abuse charity SafeLives (safelives.org.uk).
Here, Kim Chambers, a financial abuse specialist with NatWest, tells us more about what banks are doing to help domestic abuse survivors…
Can you tell us about NatWest’s new fund?
“We recognise the real impact that economic and domestic abuse can have on people and their families. The fund is designed to help victims, champion their potential, and to support financial confidence and independence. SafeLives is co-creating the programme with survivors and frontline services.”
What’s your background at NatWest and what does your role involve?
“I’ve worked for the bank now for 19 years. I’ve been in customer-facing roles since my very first role as a cashier. My current role focuses on economic abuse and involves supporting customers coming through these situations with the next steps. Each day brings a different challenge. I’m there for colleagues when they recognise abuse, but also as a direct contact for our customers. I’ve been supporting some customers for over 12 months now.”
So your relationship with customers may go on for a long period?
“Yes, and I think that’s key. Often, even after someone has successfully removed themselves from an abusive relationship, there are still financial ties and impacts which can continue for a long time afterwards.”
What are the key warning signs of economic abuse?
“Someone might not recognise it until later. Often that will come with their experience with friends, with family. It could just be in a conversation: ‘Do you not have to show your receipts when you come home from your shopping?’ Or, ‘You can access all of your funds?’”
How do customers get in touch?
“For many people affected, it can be difficult to visit a branch or even telephone and therefore we have a very simple form on our customer websites, which enables someone to reach out for help. That connects them directly into me and I make contact at a time and on a number that’s agreed as being safe and convenient to speak.
“I also get referrals from conversations customers have had with my colleagues. We support the whole network so people can contact us in any way.”
What impact do you think the pandemic has had on economic abuse?
“There might be financial strains – and that increases tension in any relationship. I’ve found that the time some survivors may have on their hands is encouraging them to contact us [to find out more about what they can do].”
Who experiences economic abuse?
“It can be anybody, from any walk of life. I’ve supported doctors and lawyers. People might have been in a relationship for 30 years and now they look back and say: ‘That controlling behaviour started when we’d been married for 10 years and I didn’t realise at the time.’
“Or the relationship may be very new, two or three months, and very early on that control is evident. It presents itself in so many ways and doesn’t come with a great big warning sign. There is no ‘type’. It can happen to anybody, at any age, at any time.”
Does economic abuse mainly involve couples?
“The majority of the economic abuse I see is in intimate relationships, but I’ve seen all sorts of cases. It could involve power of attorney. When somebody’s looking after someone else’s finances, they need to be doing it in the best interests of the person they’re helping. I have also had some cases where an adult child has had to hand over their salary to the parents, and I’ve had difficult conversations with young adults in this situation.”
What would you say to someone who is experiencing this right now?
“The key is to talk to someone. We would encourage all our customers to know that we are there to help. There are support services out there and the more people talk about it, the easier the process.”
For more information, visit personal.natwest.com and search for ‘financial abuse’