Warning signs in financially abusive relationships

Mar 09, 2021
Warning signs in financially abusive relationships

LFC asked Jan Breckenridge UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network Professor and Co-Convenor, questions on financial abuse and what to look out for and where to go for help:


What are the early warning signs?

“It’s important to learn the signs of financial abuse, where to go for help, and how to support a family member or friend who may be at risk. Early warning signs may include: a build-up of unanticipated debt on credit cards or an unexplained loss of money in savings accounts; accounts and bills transferred to one partner’s name without their knowledge or permission; one partner having to unreasonably account for their spending and produce receipts or having no money for food, childcare costs or basic utilities; and heavy gambling expenses and excessive spending on alcohol and drugs.”


Trends since COVID-19?

“It is difficult to establish trends since COVID-19 as much of the data collection focuses on physical or sexual abuse.  Economic and financial abuse contribute to coercive control of one partner over another. During COVID-19, people affected by DFV may be isolated with their violent and abusive partner, first in lockdown with the associated restrictions on gatherings and social distancing and also as a result of working from home.

“This makes it difficult to seek support or access help to manage or leave the situation.  It also means the perpetrator has easier access to financial and banking records and spending and on-line information including email and other social media communication in a way that they may not have had, if individuals were working from an office or other organisation. This level of intense scrutiny and surveillance can trap individuals in the abusive relationship. Perpetrators may also have ready access to their partner’s work product which they can damage or manipulate to undermine their partner’s employment.”


Practical ways of managing your finances with your partner 

“It is always important to ensure there is transparent knowledge of financial arrangements in the relationship.  For example, know whose name is on credit cards and utility bills and ensure that both partners are aware of all financial arrangements involving them.  Seek proper advice – ask your bank or financial institution to properly explain any new financial products and the implications for each partner and ask for help as soon as there is any indication of a problem of financial anomaly. Financial counsellors may also help if there are concerns.”


Where you can go for help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au.  For counselling, advice and support call Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or ntv.org.au/get-help. In an emergency or if you’re not feeling safe, always call 000.

Sian Lewis, Group Executive, CBA says addressing financial abuse and supporting customers has been a focus of CBA’s since 2015.

“Now more than ever, solutions are needed. A global pandemic, economic instability and home confinement are taking their toll on Australian households. To address this issue, we need to increase our understanding of financial abuse and build our capability so that we can respond more effectively.

One of the key priorities of CommBank’s Next Chapter program is to work in partnership with experts to increase community and industry understanding of financial abuse, which is why we have partnered UNSW’s Gendered Violence Research Network to develop a research series exploring the current knowledge of financial abuse in Australia.”

CommBank has updated their Acceptable Use Policy so that any customer found to be using NetBank or the CommBank app to engage in unlawful, defamatory, harassing or threatening conduct, promoting or encouraging physical or mental harm or violence against any person may have their transactions refused or access to digital banking services suspended or discontinued.

Are you ready to become


"Ok, maybe just ready to establish a strong financial future?
Sign up for our newsletter below."