What is economic and domestic abuse?
The Domestic Abuse Act emphasises that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.
Economic abuse is where an individual’s access to resources is limited or controlled. For example, controlling access to money or resources such as food, clothing and other necessities. Economic abuse is often a form of coercive and controlling behaviour. It takes away someone's capacity to support themselves, making them financially dependent on the perpetrator. It can also include exploitation and breaches of trust – such as spending someone else's money or requiring them to buy things or take out debts. The Act now makes economic abuse part of the statutory definition of domestic abuse.
We set out here how we consider complaints that involve economic and domestic abuse, as well as some information and guidance for businesses about our approach.
Types of complaint we see
People contact us when economic or domestic abuse has impacted them and their financial situation, and they think a financial business could have done more to help or step in. Or sometimes because they feel the financial business did something wrong and they've lost out as a result.
When we receive a complaint involving domestic or economic abuse, it often involves very complex or sensitive circumstances.
In most of the cases we've seen, the abuser is someone they know well, such as a partner, another family member, a friend, a relative or a carer. In some cases, the abuse is directly relevant to the complaint itself – for example where someone was coerced into taking a loan.
In other cases, it's part of wider circumstances that impact on financial matters – for example where someone has left an abusive relationship and is experiencing financial difficulty as a result.
People have come to us saying:
- I've been pressured into guaranteeing a loan
- Someone forced me to take out a loan in my own name for someone else's benefit
- Someone took out loans/credit cards/overdrafts using my name without my knowledge or consent
- Someone used my credit card or account without my knowing
- I've been pressured into letting someone use my card/account
- Someone stopped making payments to our joint loan/mortgage to punish me or ruin my credit record
- Someone made me take out car finance or insurance in my name for their car
- Someone put all our debts into my name and left me to pay them all
- Someone made me sign over policies or investments to them
We can also help people who say:
- I've separated from the abuser but we still have joint accounts and the business disclosed my address
- The abuser has left the property but won't agree to making changes – such as a reduced interest rate – to our joint mortgage even though I make all the payments
- I've escaped an abusive relationship – and I'm now experiencing financial problems or need some breathing space while I get back on my feet
Handling a complaint like this
As with any complaint, we’ll expect you to work with your customer to get to the bottom of what happened, investigate fairly whether anything went wrong, and – where appropriate – take steps to put things right.
Additionally when handling complaints about economic abuse, or brought by survivors of abuse, you’ll need to bear in mind the importance of acting with sensitivity and understanding – for example, avoiding asking your customer to repeatedly tell their story. The FCA's guidance on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers is often relevant here, and the the financial abuse code of practice may also be relevant.
It might also be necessary to think about whether you need to do things differently from your standard procedures to support a customer who has experienced abuse.
If you don’t reply within the time limits for responding to a complaint, or the customer disagrees with your response, they can bring their complaint to us. We’ll check it’s something we can deal with, and if it is, we’ll investigate.
Read more about resolving complaints.
What we look at
We’ll look at all the circumstances, including evidence provided by you and by your customer. We’ll consider what you knew, and what you ought reasonably to have known – including whether there were any triggers for further action or investigation. We’ll take into account the relevant law, regulations and guidance and we’ll want to see that you treated your customer fairly in their particular circumstances.
As well as all the usual considerations which apply to any complaint, we’ll think about whether something different should have been put in place because of the circumstances of this case. For example, we might look at what steps you took, or should have taken, to stop an abusive party finding out the new address of the survivor. Or where a debt was run up as a result of an abusive relationship, we might think about whether you should have offered particular forbearance – and in some cases we might think about whether it’s fair to enforce it.
We’ll also think about the customer service you provided and the experience of your customer in getting their finances back on track after an abusive relationship.
Putting things right
If we find you've treated your customer unfairly, or have made a mistake, we'll ask you to put things right. Our general approach is that your customer should be put back in the position they'd be in if the problem hadn’t happened. We may also ask you to compensate them for any distress and inconvenience they experienced as a result of the problem or mistake.
The exact details of how we’ll ask you to put things right will depend on the nature of the complaint, and how the customer lost out. We might ask you to put things right by making changes to a product or account, paying compensation for financial loss, or making changes to a credit file. Or we could ask you to do things differently for this customer in the future.
Read more about understanding our approach to compensation.
A consumer is coerced into being a loan guarantor by a family member
A consumer complains about a loan her ex-husband took out in her name
If you want to talk informally about a complaint you’ve received, you can speak to our technical desk. They can give general information on how the ombudsman might look at a particular complaint. They also offer guidance on our rules and how we work.
Find out how to contact our technical desk.
Information for consumers
If you’re a consumer looking for information about how we can help you with a complaint, you can read about complaints involving economic and domestic abuse and how we can help, in the consumer section of our site.
Or to make a complaint, read more about how to complain.