Press Release

8 December 2020

Campaign calls for reform to tackle long-term financial impact of economic abuse on survivors

Campaign calls for reform to tackle long-term financial impact of economic abuse on survivors
  • One in five survivors (21%) left unable to repay debt and 26% have a negatively impacted credit rating
  • Survivors of economic abuse in debt will owe £3,272 on average – however one in four have debts in excess of £5,000
  • The Co-operative Bank and Refuge’s “Know Economic Abuse” report calls for credit reference reform to avoid financial exclusion of economic abuse survivors
  • Experian announce they are working closely with the campaign to improve access to credit reports, training and Victims of Fraud support to address the long-term burden on survivors

A large proportion of personal debt in the UK could be the direct result of economic abuse, according to a recent report by The Co-operative Bank and Refuge, the UK’s largest national domestic abuse charity.

On average, a survivor of domestic abuse who was left in debt will be indebted to the tune of £3,272 as a direct result of economic abuse perpetrated by a current or former partner. One in four will have debts in excess of £5,000 (24%). On average, women survivors of economic abuse were in significantly more debt than men survivors, with an average debt of £3,818 compared to £2,926. This means that approximately £14.4 billion in the UK can be attributed to some form of economic abuse.

The “Know Economic Abuse” campaign aims to raise awareness of the true scale of economic abuse in the UK. Economic abuse – sometimes called financial abuse – occurs when someone attempts to control another’s ability to acquire, maintain access to, or use money or other economic resources on a sustained basis. The study, previously conducted in 2015, expanded its research this year to look at the long-term financial impact of economic abuse on survivors.

The campaign has now partnered with leading credit reference agency Experian to raise awareness of financial coercion in the context of domestic abuse. Experian will work closely with the campaign with the aim of improving the process for survivors to inform lenders that debt was caused by economic abuse and aid lenders in reducing the long-term debt burden on survivors. This includes plans to improve access to credit reports, training and Victims of Fraud support to help clear of the financial mess left behind by an abusive partner.

How does economic abuse lead to long-term debt?

57% of those who had experienced economic abuse said that they were in or had been in debt as a result – this accounts for 4.7 million people.

This debt can develop in a number of ways due to the actions of perpetrators. People who experience economic abuse often see their partners make significant financial decisions, without discussing it with them, such as buying a new home or purchasing a new car (13%). Perpetrators will often also put debts in a partner’s name under duress (11%) or even do so fraudulently without their consent or awareness (10%). In some cases, these debts come with particularly high interest rates attached to them, such as ‘payday’ loans (9%) or overdrafts (9%).

While many people are aware of the illegality of an abuser opening accounts in their partner’s  name without knowledge or consent , Experian has also clarified that in instances in which a survivor was coerced into opening an account, this can also be disputed as fraudulent.

Impact of long-term debt

One in four survivors find themselves struggling financially as a result of economic abuse (27%) and 21% will face debts that they are unable to repay. This was even higher for survivors who first experienced economic abuse during the Coronavirus pandemic, with 32% saying that they were struggling with debt and 31% saying that they could not afford basic living costs. In 40% of cases, it will take a survivor years to pay off the debt, if they are able to at all.

One in four survivors (26%) will end up with a negatively impacted credit rating as a result of economic abuse. This significantly impairs their ability to gain economic stability and make financial choices; in some cases it can create barriers for survivors who wanted to leave their abusive partner and live independently. For example, 45% said they had been unable to get a credit card and 32% said that they had only been able to access a credit card with a high interest rate. 30% said they had been unable to get a personal loan due to the impact of economic abuse on their credit rating. Almost a quarter had been unable to buy a home as a consequence of their damaged credit rating.

Maria Cearns, managing director, People & Customer, The Co-operative Bank, comments: “Something we have learned in our ongoing interactions with vulnerable customers who have suffered some form of economic abuse, is that the ramifications of abuse can continue to have a profound impact on someone’s financial wellbeing for years to come. It was a stark realisation for us that some of the survivors we polled five years ago as part of our original study would still be subject to long-term debt, damaged credit ratings and limited access to financial products and services, due to circumstances that were completely outside of their own control. Our findings have shown that long-term debt accrued as a result of economic abuse is significant and we will work diligently with Refuge and Experian on this.”

Lisa King, director of communications and external relations at Refuge, says: “Economic abuse is a huge issue facing women across the country and, as our report shows, can leave women struggling with debt for many years, with their ability to leave their abusive partner affected.

“The long term impacts of debt as a result of economic abuse should not be ignored – and action needs to be taken to ensure women are able to rebuild their financial stability and gain economic independence following abuse.

“Domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence and our report should be a wake-up call that action must be taken to address all forms of domestic abuse –  there are simple steps that the banking and financial industry can take which will better protect women and we hope they will seize this opportunity to make the necessary changes.”

John Webb, consumer affairs executive at Experian, comments: “Survivors of economic abuse who have had accounts opened fraudulently, can suffer long-term financial consequences. Experian’s Victims of Fraud Team can help victims dispute these accounts with all lenders, on their behalf.

“Survivors of economic abuse may have fraudulent accounts opened in their name, without their knowledge or permission. However, victims of economic abuse can also be coerced (forced) to open accounts, which can also be disputed as fraudulent.

“It’s important that survivors of economic abuse can clear up their credit reports, by removing fraudulent accounts, in order to access financial services as they rebuild their lives. Experian can help people dispute any fraudulent accounts with lenders directly, helping to clear up the record for victims of economic abuse.”

To view the full research report from Refuge and The Co-operative Bank visit: Click here

Spokespeople are available for comment and interviews. Case studies are also available on request.


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Notes to editors

Recommendations from the Know Economic Abuse report

Along with the publication of its report, which fully details the study’s methodology and findings, the Co-operative Bank and Refuge have built on the Code of Practice that was implemented in 2018 to develop a five-point plan of action to  further address the issue of economic abuse. A number of these recommendations refer directly to action needed to tackle the issue of long-term debt:

1.       Banks and other financial services institutions to build on the support they offer to survivors of economic abuse by:

a.    The creation of clear processes for customers who are in debt as a result of economic abuse to inform the bank of their circumstances, be supported by well-trained staff and have that debt burden reduced wherever possible

b.    The provision of information about economic abuse and where customers can seek help when customers apply for any joint financial product

2.       Credit reference agencies to take a greater role, protecting survivors of economic abuse through the creation of a preferential ‘credit rating repair’ system. This would then be implemented by both banks and credit reference agencies

3.       The creation of a cross-government fund for survivors to assist them with the costs of leaving a perpetrator and accessing a safe place to stay

4.       Reform of welfare benefits systems to benefit survivors and current victims of economic abuse. This should include

a.    Automatic separate payments of Universal Credit

b.    Universal Credit advances for those fleeing abusive partners, paid as grants rather than loans

5.       Banks, other financial services institutions, and specialist domestic abuse organisations to conduct a review of the impact of online and digital banking on survivors of economic abuse and produce recommendations for change in 2021

The Know Economic Abuse report has been made up of two elements; a nationally representative survey among 4,009 adults in the UK, conducted by Opinium between 03 and 07 February 2020, and qualitative research interviews undertaken with 14 survivors of intimate partner violence whom had accessed Refuge’s specialist services. As the results of the first survey were being analysed the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK. We commissioned a second nationally representative survey, again carried out by Opinium. This survey repeated the key questions from the first survey on experience of economic abuse, including when the abuse started and whether any help was sought. This second survey contained additional options related to the Covid-19 pandemic, including whether economic abuse started when the survivor lost their job, saw their income reduce or were furloughed due to Covid-19. This second survey was conducted in June 2020 and was completed by 4,008 adults in the UK

Media Contacts

Nicki Parry
The Co-operative Bank
Tel: 0161 201 1590

Lewis Wilks
Tel: 0790 3260 560 Email:

Refuge media office
Tel: 0207 395 7731

The Co-operative Bank

The Co-operative Bank plc provides a full range of banking products and services to retail and SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) customers and is committed to values and ethics in line with the principles of the co-operative movement.

The Co-operative Bank is the only high street bank with a customer-led ethical policy which gives customers a say in how their money is used. Launched in 1992, the Policy has been updated on five occasions, with new commitments added in January 2015 to cover how the Bank operates its business, products and services, workplace and culture, relationships with suppliers and other stakeholders and campaigning

About Refuge

Refuge opened the world’s first refuge in Chiswick, West London, in 1971. Since then it has grown to become the country’s largest single provider of specialist support to women and children escaping domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence. On any given day, Refuge supports more than 6,500 women and children.

Refuge’s national network of specialist services include: safe emergency accommodation through refuges in secret locations across the country; community-based outreach services; culturally specific services for women from South Asian, African and Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Vietnamese backgrounds; a modern slavery service; independent advocacy services for women at the highest risk of serious injury and homicide; a range of single point of access services for women, children and men across entire regions; and the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline.

Refuge also runs award-winning public awareness campaigns, advises Governments and was voted ‘Charity of the Year’ 2016 at The Charity Times Awards.

For more information, please visit or follow Refuge’s work on and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Refuge encourages all media outlets to signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline, for free and confidential support, 24 hours a day,  call 0808 2000 247 or visit to access live chat.