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Concerns over ‘financial abuse’ in relationships raised as a fifth of young women don’t have control over their money


Louise O’Mahony, BPFI head of sustainable banking

Louise O’Mahony, BPFI head of sustainable banking

Louise O’Mahony, BPFI head of sustainable banking

Concerns have been raised that young women could be vulnerable to financial abuse from violent partners after it emerged that more than a fifth of women aged 18-34 do not have control over their money.

Research by the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland (BPFI) said that women under 35 were also more likely to have difficulty managing their finances.

It comes as Ireland’s main banks have started training staff to identify customers who may be under coercive control.

Financial control is a devastating and popular tactic for abusers. Of the 30,841 disclosures of abuse to Women’s Aid in 2020, 1,925 were disclosures of economic abuse. The domestic violence charity said “financial abuse is a form of domestic violence in which the abuser uses money as a means of controlling their partner”.

Any victim, regardless of their socioeconomic status, can be vulnerable to financial abuse. Losing access to their money can not only isolate victims, it can also mean they face hardship if they leave the relationship.

The BPFI commissioned a survey of 1,000 people in December 2021. It found that 22pc of women under the age of 35 did not have control over their financial affairs. This compared to 11pc of all respondents. Over 40pc of women between 18-34 said they found it difficult to manage their money, compared to 25pc of men and 34pc of all women. But men had more anxiety about financial exploitation, with 30pc saying they were concerned someone would take advantage of them financially compared to 23pc of women.

The research was carried out as staff at Ireland’s main banks are being trained to spot financial abuse. Women’s Aid training is being rolled out at AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC Bank, Ulster Bank and Permanent TSB.

“The findings from our latest research indicate that of all customer cohorts surveyed, young women under 35 are most likely to not feel in control of their money, and yet also the least concerned that someone might take advantage of them financially which is clearly concerning,” Louise O’Mahony, BPFI head of sustainable banking, said.

“And while not all customers who report not feeling in control of their money are subject to coercive control, some customers, both men and women, are likely to experience this.”

Financial abuse is one of the less discussed elements of domestic abuse and coercive control. Survivors of economic abuse in Ireland have reported being forced to be financially dependent on their abuser, as a way to be controlled. They have been denied access to money for them and their children, as well as not being able to pay for medication.

In some cases, abusers have forced victims into debt or demanded large sums of money from them.

Victims also reported being told when they could work, while also being denied access to their earnings.

In some cases, a victim’s pay would go straight to their violent partner.

New training for bank staff will also consider how a victim may have no account in their own name and how abuse survivors may wish to be able to book a confidential appointment with bank staff to discuss their lack of access to their own finances.

Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson said her organisation heard from hundreds of women every year who had been victims of financial abuse. She said special training for bank staff could directly improve the financial security of victims. “By controlling access to financial resources, abusers ensure that their partners are forced to choose between staying in an abusive relationship and facing poverty and financial hardship,” Ms Benson said.

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