How to recognise economic harm

July 5, 2021

Economic harm doesn’t leave visible marks. Like other forms of violence, it can be subtle – beginning with the smallest breach of trust and build over time. 

Economic harm can affect anyone. It is experienced in the context of power and control.

The impact can be devastating and can influence financial security long after it’s over.

To support and protect people from economic harm, it’s important to be able to recognise the signs and know how to respond.

What does economic harm look like?

Economic harm can take form in all shapes and sizes. It can easily go unnoticed to begin with.

Below are some examples of things that may cause concern. Individually these may mean very little, however several together can show a pattern of behaviour that indicates economic harm may be occurring:

💳
No access to your own or family money or bank account
🏠
Unequal decision making in how household money is spent
💰
No knowledge of family debts
🙏
Needing permission to use your own or family money
📃
Pressure to sign financial documents
🥗
Having to explain spending for everyday items and basic needs
💲💲
No control over credit history
🏢
Being coerced or forced to give up work, go to work, or stay home
💵💔
Money or resources are being withheld to prevent the relationship ending
📄
Having bank statements or other financial records taken or read without your permission
💲🏠
Expected to pay bills or for another person's obligations
🗣
Having your work responsibilities disrupted
📲
Being harassed at work by calls, texts or someone stopping by
🔑
Prevented from working through keys being hidden, the car battery being disconnected, the car gets taken without permission
🙅‍♂️🙅‍♀️
Threatened to be cut off financially when disagreeing
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  • No access to your own or family bank account and money
  • Unequal decision making in how household money is spent
  • No knowledge about family debts
  • Needing permission to use your own or family money
  • Pressure to sign financial documents
  • Having to explain spending for everyday items and basic needs
  • No control over credit history and limits
  • Being coerced or forced to give up work, go to work or stay home
  • Money or resources are being withheld to prevent the relationship ending
  • Having bank statements or other financial records taken or read without your knowledge
  • Expected to pay for bills or for another person’s obligations
  • Having your work responsibilities disrupted
  • Being harassed at work by calls, texts or someone stopping by
  • Prevented from working through keys being hidden, the car battery being disconnected, the car gets taken without permission
  • Threatened to be cut off financially when disagreeing

How to spot it when you’re not involved

Money is often a taboo topic which means it’s easier for economic harm to slip under the radar.

Below we’ve listed a few examples of what you might notice about someone else.

They:

Don’t seem to know how much money they have

Have taken out a debt that seems of character

Don’t have a disposable income but their partner does

Avoid or stop attending social activities

Are unable to return text messages or phone calls 

Continually wear old or worn clothing in a way that is inconsistent with their partner’s grooming

Do work when they don’t want to

Seem increasingly guilty or concerned about spending money on themselves

Go without food or don’t see a doctor when needed 

Need new clothes but make excuses to go without

Don’t have or constantly need money for basic items, bus money, toilet paper etc, even though they have an income to cover those things

Stress out about money when they have just been paid

Have a partner who seems to spend a disproportionate amount of money on their own wants

Take less care of their appearance when it was once very important

  • Don’t seem to know how much money they have
  • Have taken on unexpected debt that seems out of character
  • Don’t have disposable income but their partner does
  • Avoid or stop attending social activities
  • Are unable to return text messages or phone calls
  • Continually wear old or worn clothing in a way that is inconsistent with their partner’s grooming
  • Do work they don’t want to do
  • Don’t work when they do want to
  • Seem increasingly guilty or concerned about spending money on themselves
  • Go without food or don’t see a doctor when needed
  • Need new clothes but make excuses to go without
  • Don’t have or constantly need money for basic items (bus money, toilet paper etc.), even though they have an income to cover those things
  • Stress out about money when they have just been paid
  • Have a partner who seems to spend a disproportionate amount of money on their own ‘wants’
  • Take less care of their appearance when it was once very important

Thing to remember

The most important thing to remember is that someone who is experiencing economic harm doesn’t feel comfortable or safe to have a conversation with their partner about the things that are happening with their money.

Portrait of a middle aged Japanese woman standing outdoors with arms crossed

Finding support

Our Debt Coaches are trained in advocacy and understand the impact of economic harm. 

If you are concerned about the money side of your relationship, please call one of our Debt Coaches on 0800 466 370.

If you suspect economic harm is occurring, other forms of family violence may also be present or if you need to speak to someone about relationship difficulties family violence agencies are best placed to work with you.

Family violence agencies will be able to establish whether other forms of abuse are occurring, and we would encourage you to call one of the agencies.

It is important to take some form of action to stop or address economic harm, but only when it is safe to do so.

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