Reproduced from the Telegraph article
Manipulating a partner’s finances is to be treated as a form of domestic abuse for the first time, Telegraph Money has learned, but experts say victims seeking justice will continue to be left vulnerable by the legal system.
Every day, millions of people are deprived access to their finances by abusive partners, according to the charity Surviving Economic Abuse (Sea). The Government will respond to a consultation on the issue next week, insiders said, with a new Domestic Abuse Bill that will officially recognise economic abuse.
But Jenny Beck, a family lawyer at Beck Fitzgerald, said more needs to be done to help bring perpetrators to justice. She said: “Economic abuse leaves victims without financial resources to get legal help. Recognition must be accompanied by more legal aid.”
As neither economic nor domestic abuse is recognised as a criminal offence, for a prosecution to take place the abuse must fall under the terms of crimes such as grievous bodily harm or controlling or coercive behaviour.
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, founder of Sea, said a large proportion of economic abuse happens among wealthier families, particularly when the abuser works in a high-powered profession, such as law, management or finance.
Women are disproportionately affected. One victim, who preferred to remain anonymous, was with her abusive partner for more than 10 years. After she was promoted, her new husband quit his job, transferring his personal direct debits to their joint account without her knowledge.
“I was paying for his car, his loans, everything. Then he’d shout at me for not earning enough,” she said. “He’d threaten to hit me – which he often did anyway – if I told anyone the truth, and threatened my children too.”
Family and friends had no idea that he was no longer working as he used her money to buy new suits and a new car. She eventually managed to escape yet the economic abuse has continued. Her partner destroyed her birth certificate and any documents that could confirm her identity. This left her unable to access her bank accounts, which by then had been almost entirely emptied.
Difficulties with closing their joint account meant she was still paying her ex-partner’s bills four years after she left, while his spending and borrowing wreaked havoc with her credit rating. She and her children were left homeless for two years, but her ex-husband was never prosecuted.
She said she felt completely let down by the justice system and the banks: “Bank employees often refused to believe me or trivialised the matter, telling me I could only stop payments by bringing my husband into branch.
“They’d roll their eyes when I said it was too dangerous for him to be near me. Not being believed was the worst. He always told me ‘no one will ever believe you’.”
Even when the final court order came through one of the victim’s banks refused to close the joint account despite being ordered to do so by a judge. It turned out that the bank had lost the photocopy of the court order. “To this day I still haven’t heard back from that bank,” she said. “Although they did take my name off the card eventually they didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me.”
Earlier this year an administrative error by a bank forced her to move her entire life once again. It sent out a standard letter about interest rates to her and her ex-husband with both of their addresses on.
This was in spite of the fact that the account had been frozen three years previously and the bank had been informed that her location needed to be kept secret. For victims such as this one further changes cannot come fast enough.
If you have been affected by this issue and would like to speak to us in confidence please contact us on 020 7101 3090 or email Jenny on Jenny.Beck@beckfitzgerald.co.uk
Jenny is an award-winning family lawyer, committed to accessible justice and the rights of the individual. She is an entrepreneurial business leader, successful in creating and running high performing teams.