15 December 2022

Online Banking Commission completes review into the impact of online banking on survivors of economic abuse

Online Banking Commission completes cross-sector review into the impact of online banking on those experiencing economic abuse, outlines recommendations for change

  • Domestic abuse charity Refuge co-chaired the Online Banking Commission alongside partner The Co-operative Bank.
  • The Commission, launched in 2021, investigated the impact of online banking on survivors of economic abuse.
  • Refuge calls for banks to introduce a safe online tool for survivors to contact their bank for specialist support and increased awareness of the link between economic abuse and tech abuse.

Domestic abuse charity Refuge alongside their long-term corporate partner, The Co-operative Bank, have published a new report which concludes a year-long project investigating the impact of online banking on survivors of economic abuse.

The Online Banking Commission was launched in 2021 as a result of Refuge and The Co-operative Bank’s joint ‘Know Economic Abuse’ campaign, which found that a significant proportion of people who experience economic abuse identified online banking systems made them more vulnerable to abuse.

The 2020 Know Economic Abuse report showed that more than one in seven people in the UK (16%) identify as having experienced economic abuse in their current or former relationship – 24% of which said current online banking systems made them more vulnerable to perpetrators.

Responding to this evidence, Refuge and The Co-operative Bank joined together with representatives from the banking sector, domestic abuse organisations, and survivors to review the impact of online banking on survivors of economic abuse and produce recommendations for change.

The Online Banking Commission has now concluded, and Refuge has issued two primary recommendations, which could help banks improve public awareness of economic abuse and build on the support they currently offer to survivors amidst a cost-of-living crisis which is proving particularly challenging for domestic abuse survivors.

Refuge recommends the introduction of a safe online tool for survivors to contact their bank to request support from their vulnerable customer support team if they are experiencing economic abuse. A tool like this will be a vital lifeline as more physical branches close and it becomes harder for survivors to covertly contact their bank about abuse. This online tool should be accompanied by appropriate signposting to guidance and support for tech abuse from specialist domestic abuse organisations, given the high coincidence of tech and economic abuse.

Refuge’s specialist Technology-Facilitated Abuse and Economic Empowerment service indicates that a high proportion of economic abuse is facilitated using technology, such as a perpetrator’s misuse of digital banking tools. Whilst the majority of banks include information on economic abuse on their webpages and signpost to specialist support with economic and other forms of domestic abuse, there is a need for greater communications and signposting for specific support on technology-facilitated abuse.

Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, said:

“Refuge has long spoken about the link between economic abuse, where a survivor’s finances are monitored, restricted or controlled by a perpetrator, and tech abuse whereby technology is used to facilitate domestic abuse.

“Refuge runs the only specialist tech and economic abuse support service in the country, and we urge the financial sector to increase their understanding of how technology is used to perpetuate this complex type of abuse.

“Online banking is commonly used by perpetrators to closely track their partner’s accounts and monitor their spending, with survivors regularly telling us online banking means their abuser can easily impose surveillance on their finances. We hear about perpetrators setting up text alerts on their partners accounts, imposing spend limits and taking money out of their accounts using an online banking app without the survivor’s permission.

“It is vital that the banking and financial sector looks at ways to reduce the risk to women and supports survivors who experience this form of domestic abuse. We are pleased that many banks have already committed to having an online tool on their websites where survivors can contact their bank for support with economic abuse. We look forward to continuing to work with the banking and financial sector, raising awareness about the ways in which technology is mis-used by perpetrators,  and ensuring online banking tools are designed with women’s safety in mind.”

Maria Cearns, Managing Director, People & Customer, The Co-operative Bank, said:

“We have partnered with Refuge since 2015, and I continue to be immensely proud of what we have achieved together. After the success of the Know Economic Abuse campaign, which identified the impact economic abuse was having in the UK, and particularly during the pandemic, it felt like a natural next step to bring together representatives from the Banking industry in 2021 to look more closely at some of the key issues to see where we could do more.

“We were proud to co-chair the Online Banking Commission, which was a first of its kind, and overlaid real life testimonies of survivors of economic abuse to the systems and processes applied to banking products and services within the industry. We heard about the issues some survivors faced such as debts, debilitating joint mortgage arrangements, and their feeling of loss of control over their personal finances, all perpetrated by their abusers. In the spirit of our values and ethics, it was fantastic to work co-operatively with our peers in the industry and those in the Violence Against Women and Girls Sector, to understand the problems and discuss tangible solutions.

“With the findings of the Commission, Refuge have diligently responded with a recommendation to ease the ways in which customers can report economic abuse to their bank – to empower them to re-gain control.  At The Co-operative Bank we are pleased to be able to commit to implementing the recommendations of Refuge’s report, alongside our website pop-up, which directs customers on every page of our website to Refuge’s support services. The reaction from other participating banks has also been really encouraging, and we hope that through the work of the commission, we can continue to improve the support options for survivors of economic abuse.”

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse, said:

“We support the Commission’s recommendations in this online report. We know that the shift to using online technology for banking provides additional opportunities for abusers to control and coerce victim-survivors, so it is vital that we do not leave them unsupported. This is even more crucial as the cost of living increases and abusers take advantage of this context to justify further restricting victims’ access to money.

“Banks have a unique opportunity to reach victim-survivors of economic abuse and whilst many banks are doing good work in raising awareness of economic abuse, more focus is needed on the use of online technology. We’ll be working with Refuge to encourage banks to signpost specific support in this area to customers.”

Natalie*, a survivor of domestic abuse, said:

My abuser left me responsible for debts I hadn’t willingly consented to and had no way of paying back.

“Even after I left him, he still had control over my life, because he had this financial hold over me and had left me with debts. His spending ended up having a negative impact on my credit rating for years to come.

“He was physically violent and coercive, and I didn’t feel that I had opportunities to disclose the economic abuse and seek support. I knew if I didn’t comply with his demands, there would be consequences.

“Banks and other financial institutions need clear signposting to specialist domestic abuse support for survivors of economic abuse like me, and options to disclose their circumstances confidentially and safely, so that they can access practical help in rebuilding their finances.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors:

  1. The Online Banking Commission final report & recommendations can be read here.
  2. The Online Banking Commission was co-chaired by Refuge and The Co-operative Bank, other members attending sessions and contributing to the commission included:Surviving Economic Abuse
    Lloyds Banking Group
    Tesco Bank
    Metro Bank
    Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales.
    Anonymous survivors of economic abuse.

About Refuge:

Refuge supports thousands of women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.

Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For support with tech abuse visit

About 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.