Economic abuse awareness

23 August 2019

In this article, PayPlan’s CEO, Rachel Duffey explores the challenges of recognising clients who are experiencing economic abuse and what this means for debt advisers.

It is estimated that around two million adults experience domestic abuse every year. More shockingly, two women are killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales*.

The introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill by the government in January 2019 aims to help everyone understand what constitutes domestic abuse.

The landmark legislation introduced the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse. It includes economic abuse, controlling and manipulative behaviour and not just physical abuse.

Under the new bill

Economic abuse is classed as the use or misuse of money which limits and controls a partner’s current and future actions and their freedom of choice. This can include:

  • restricting access to money
  • checking receipts
  • incurring debts in their name
  • gambling in someone else’s name
  • stealing
  • fraud.

The above examples of economic abuse are common themes. They are reflective of the conversations we have when talking to clients about their financial situation during their advice session.

Client disclosures at PayPlan

Since 2015, we have recorded 705 client disclosures of domestic abuse, and of those 85% are female and 15% male**. Of the total number, over half (54%) of the disclosures were made during 2018 alone – a significant increase on any previous year.

Domestic abuse is not always physical and it’s really encouraging that the new bill recognises this. The support that we offer clients with free debt advice means we’re ideally placed to help identify, signpost and provide additional support for victims of domestic abuse.

To be able to offer the correct support and to ensure we are safeguarding clients and their families appropriately, we have been working closely with Broxtowe Women’s Project, based in Nottingham.

Working with Broxtowe Women’s Project

Our aim has been to improve our own awareness of domestic abuse and to better understand the financial barriers survivors face in leaving an abusive situation and thereafter in rebuilding their lives.

With the support of Broxtowe Women’s Project, the first steps we took focused on our processes. We wanted to make sure we had efficient escalation processes and that we were signposting our clients to specialist services.

Next, we implemented additional adviser awareness training. This was rolled out to every front line adviser as we wanted to make sure everyone was confident in spotting the signs, asking proactive questions, as well as confident in supporting clients who disclosed domestic abuse.

As a result, we also developed our own internal support network for colleagues. This includes making sure they know who they can turn to should they want to disclose being a victim or a perpetrator of domestic abuse themselves. Plus, how they can access support if they want to talk about a difficult case or discuss what their client has told them.

It was interesting talking with Sarah Dagley, Fundraising Manager at Broxtowe Women’s Project Business. She explained how great it was to work with such passionate people like us who are eager to understand how to better support those affected by domestic abuse.

Their project provides a confidential helpline and outreach services aimed at empowering women to survive domestic abuse. It was only by working together that they had been able to learn more about the services that a free debt advice provider could offer women in becoming financially independent.

Yet together, Sarah and I feel there is more that can be done.

Next steps

We’ll now explore where we can offer our expertise to other organisations. But we also want to understand and gain the support from the financial services industry, working to remove some of the barriers facing survivors of domestic abuse which prevent them from becoming financially independent and resilient.

With the Domestic Abuse Bill raising awareness of domestic abuse and with more people disclosing, the emphasis on client support is only ever going to grow stronger. We aim to be at the forefront of supporting survivors of domestic abuse. Could you help in achieving this?

* Office for National Statistics (2016) Compendium – Homicide (average taken over 10 years)
**PayPlan’s Vulnerable Client Team data March 2019


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