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What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is sometimes called economic abuse. Financial abuse is a form of domestic and family violence.

Financial abuse can include many things, like controlling and preventing your access to money, stopping you from getting a job or forcing you to get loans you don't want.

Financial abuse can also occur with other forms of violence and abuse. Financial abuse is not OK. Support is available for you.

What is financial abuse?
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Financial abuse is when someone is controlling with money and assets.

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Why is this happening to me?
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Financial abuse can happen to anyone. It is about their behaviour, not yours.

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I feel like I am the only one.
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Financial abuse is a common form of abuse. Some people have shared their stories, and you can see them in our videos.

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Financial abuse: what does it look like?

Three women with lived experience of financial abuse discuss their personal experiences. They explain what happened in their situations before and during the abuse occurred. 1800RESPECT Clinical Engagement Manager Inez Carey summarises what financial abuse can look like, and how to reach out for support.

Participants in this video are speaking about the effects of financial abuse. If this video causes distress, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 373 732 or via web chat to speak to a counsellor, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse happens when someone uses money to control you, have power over you, scare or restrict you. Someone who is financially abusive might also use things you own, or things you both own (such as property), to cause problems for you.

Sometimes you might not even be aware that it is happening to you. This is because people who control others financially can often convince you that their way of “managing” money is for the best, or they may convince you that you don’t know how to manage money.

What are the warning signs?

A very common warning sign is being excluded from financial decision making or excluded from having access to information about your or your household’s money.

There will be a pattern to the behaviour as it usually happens again and again. You may not even be aware of how it started and usually it gets worse over time. Sometimes other types of abuse are going on at the same time. If financial abuse is being used to scare and control you, it is a form of domestic and family violence and it is not OK.

Who can experience financial abuse?

Financial abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of how wealthy you are, your ethnic background, gender, age and ability. It can happen at any time of a relationship, even after you have separated or divorced.

Many people who experience domestic and family violence have also experienced financial abuse.

If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat.

You can also get free confidential advice from a financial counsellor by calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 between 9.30am and 4.30pm. You can also find a financial counsellor in your area on the National Debt Helpline website.

Who is responsible for financial abuse?

Financial abuse can happen in any relationship, including with:

  • Boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, husbands or wives
  • Ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-partners, ex-husbands or ex-wives
  • Carers or paid support workers
  • Parents, guardians or other family members
  • Adult children
  • Other people you live with or see often, whether inside or outside the home.

None of these people has the right to force or pressure you into letting them control your money or the things you own.

Financial abuse might include someone:

  • Stopping you from having money that is yours
  • Forcing you to pay for things you don't want or need
  • Forcing or pressuring you to giving your money to them or someone else
  • Controlling or taking your pension, benefits, or pay
  • Forcing or pressuring you to giving them control of your money, payments, bank accounts or property
  • Not allowing you to see bills, loans or bank account statements (or access bank apps)
  • Forcing or pressuring you to sell your property or possessions
  • Taking or selling your property or possessions without your permission
  • Forcing or pressuring you to sign documents, such as loans, mortgages, credit cards, debit cards, Centrelink claims and phone contracts
  • Forcing or pressuring you to sign a document that gives someone else control of your money, property or financial decisions
  • Taking out loans or running up debts in your name
  • Not letting you use joint bank accounts for normal household expenses
  • Stopping you or interfering with your work or ability to look for work
  • Stopping you or interfering with your schooling, studying, or your ability to go to school
  • Forcing you to work and not giving you access to your wages
  • Refusing to pay for things you need, such as food, medicine, or disability-related equipment
  • Refusing to use their money to support you and your children (when they are your partner or the parent of your children) or contributing to household expenses
  • Hiding assets and money.

Financial abuse can be a form of domestic or family violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse it's OK to ask for help.

What are the signs?

Financial abuse can be different depending on your circumstances.

There are similarities and differences in what people may experience.

Financial abuse is a form of domestic and family violence and it is ok to ask for support.

 

I feel like I am trapped.
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Most people feel this way in this situation. Remember someone is doing something to make you feel this way.

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Are you scared to ask for money?
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You have a right to buy things that you and your family need to make you feel healthy and safe.

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Does your partner tell you they will look after your money?
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This can be one of the first signs and can happen early in the relationship.

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Financial abuse: what are the signs?

Three women with lived experience of financial abuse discuss their personal experiences. They explain what happened in their situations before and during the abuse occurred. 1800RESPECT Clinical Engagement Manager Inez Carey summarises what financial abuse can look like, and how to reach out for support.

Participants in this video are speaking about the effects of financial abuse. If this video causes distress, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 373 732 or via web chat to speak to a counsellor, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Financial abuse can be different for different people depending on their circumstances. However, there are similarities in what they may experience, and the impact on them.

Those who have experienced financial abuse say:

  • They were fearful of the other person
  • Financial abuse was experienced with other forms of abuse (including physical, mental and emotional)
  • There were subtle changes in the other person’s behaviour, and it then progressed over time before they “realised it was happening”
  • They were made to feel “stupid” or incompetent, and would doubt their own knowledge
  • Loans, mortgages, credit cards and accounts were only in one person’s name, and this made them feel powerless and trapped
  • There were no discussions about finance, income and budgets. Decisions were made without their input.

Fears and emotions can be signs of financial abuse, including:

  • Feeling alone
  • Fear of being judged
  • Feeling scared of the other person and what they might do
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling like you have no autonomy
  • Feeling like “walking on eggshells”
  • Scared for others in the environment, for example, children and pets
  • A gut feeling that it “isn’t right”
  • Feeling useless or “stupid”
  • Feeling trapped like a prisoner or hostage
  • Feelings of shame and humiliation
  • Being scared in their own home.

Financial abuse can be a form of domestic and family violence, and it is never OK. There is support available, and organisations that can assist. If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat.

You can also get free confidential advice from a financial counsellor by calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 between 9.30am and 4.30pm. You can also find a financial counsellor in your area on our website.

Options for support

Financial abuse can happen to anyone.

You are not alone and support is available.

There is no shame in experiencing financial abuse or seeking assistance.

Financial Abuse: If you suspect it, what should you do?

Three women with lived experience of financial abuse discuss their personal experiences. They explain what happened in their situations before and during the abuse occurred. 1800RESPECT Clinical Engagement Manager Inez Carey summarises what financial abuse can look like, and how to reach out for support.

Participants in this video are speaking about the effects of financial abuse. If this video causes distress, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 373 732 or via web chat to speak to a counsellor, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Where do I start?

It can be difficult to know how to make the first step when you have been impacted by financial abuse. Depending on your situation, the steps may be different. It is important to know there are organisations and programs that can support you.

Here are some things to consider when reaching out for support:

  • Be in a safe space
  • Call 1800RESPECT for information, referrals and counselling
  • If you don’t know what to say to the counsellors, start by telling them about your situation and asking “is this normal” or “is this abuse?” (For most of our callers, this is the first time they’ve spoken about it, it may take time for you to find the right words.)
  • Work with support networks for safety planning and financial planning. See the cards below for more information or search our service directory for services in your area
  • Stay in touch with your support and counselling networks.

Who can provide support?

There are a number of organisations and programs that can assist people impacted by financial abuse.

Types of support available include:

  • Financial support
  • Housing assistance
  • Debt assistance
  • Legal support
  • Domestic violence crisis services
  • Financial management
  • Employment services
  • Counselling services.

You can access support to recover from financial abuse at any stage of your journey.

1800RESPECT is Australia’s national sexual abuse, domestic and family violence counselling service. We offer information, counselling and referrals to anyone impacted by financial abuse. You can access this service even if you are unsure what you are experiencing is abuse.

You can also get free confidential advice from a financial counsellor by calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 between 9.30am and 4.30pm. You can also find a financial counsellor in your area on our website.

What a financial counsellor does

Financial counsellors work with people in financial hardship, and provide advice on:

  • Mortgage payments or rent
  • Credit cards and personal loans
  • Utility bills including phone and internet
  • Joint debts and priority debts
  • Centrelink issues
  • Negotiating with creditors
  • Generally sorting out your finances.

The National Debt Helpline website provides step by step guides on how to tackle all common financial problems.

What does the first step look like?
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Reading this website is a great start. The next step can be to call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 to speak to a counsellor who can talk with you about options.

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Who can help me regain control of my money?
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We recommend getting in touch with the National Debt Helpline who can help you with a plan.

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Who can help me with the impacts of financial abuse?
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Search our Service Directory for services in your area, or call us on 1800RESPECT for information.

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Can I get financial assistance?
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You may be eligible for financial hardship assistance from selected banks and Centrelink.

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How do I start the conversation?
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You can talk to a trusted friend or family member, and you can talk to a qualified counsellor at 1800RESPECT 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our counsellors will assist you with questions you can ask your financial institution.

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Can I ask my bank for assistance?
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Ask your bank if they have a hardship or domestic violence support program.

Many utility companies (electricity, gas, internet) have a hardship program. You can also contact a service such as Thriving Communities that can assist with utility access.

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I do not have access to a mobile phone or other technology to communicate.
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Contact WESNET about their SafeConnections program.

You can also contact your local domestic violence service about similar programs.

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Is there a checklist I can use to make sure I am getting the support I need?
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1800RESPECT has a safety planning section on our website which explains what safety planning is, how you can support someone to make a safety plan, and a checklist of things you may need.

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How can I support someone who is experiencing financial abuse?
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Our website has information about how to support someone impacted by different types of family and domestic violence. You can also contact the Australian Banking Association for further information.

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Websites to visit

For support networks

Supporting someone who has been impacted by domestic and family violence can be difficult. Friends and family who are supporting someone who has been experiencing financial abuse are also able to reach out for support.

If you are supporting someone who has been impacted by financial abuse, you can call 1800RESPECT for information and counselling.

You can also support by raising awareness and sharing information on financial abuse. 1800RESPECT has resources available to promote the Financial Abuse Support Toolkit.